Disposal of products and materials containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): A cyclical problem

By Tasha Stoiber, Sydney Evans, and Olga V. Naidenko
July 21, 2020
DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2020.127659

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), highly stable and persistent chemicals used in numerous industrial applications and consumer goods, pose an exceptionally difficult challenge for disposal. Three approaches are currently available for PFAS wastes: landfilling, wastewater treatment and incineration. Each disposal approach can return either the original PFAS or their degradation products back to the environment, illustrating that the PFAS problem is cyclical. Landfilling and wastewater treatment do not destroy PFAS and simply move PFAS loads between sites. Consumer products and various materials discarded in landfills leach PFAS over time, and landfill leachate is commonly sent to wastewater treatment plants. From wastewater treatment plants, PFAS are carried over to sludge and effluent. Sewage sludge can be landfilled, incinerated, or applied on agricultural fields, and PFAS from treated sludge (biosolids) can contaminate soil, water, and crops. Incineration of PFAS-containing wastes can emit harmful air pollutants, such as fluorinated greenhouse gases and products of incomplete combustion, and some PFAS may remain in the incinerator ash. Volatile PFAS are emitted into the air from landfills and wastewater treatment plants, and research is urgently needed on the potential presence of PFAS compounds in air emissions from commercially run incinerators. Monitoring of waste streams for PFAS, stopping PFAS discharges into water, soil and air and protecting the health of fence-line communities close to the waste disposal sites are essential to mitigate the impacts of PFAS pollution on human health.

View on PubMed