PFAS Experts Symposium: Statements on regulatory policy, chemistry and analytics, toxicology, transport/fate, and remediation for per‐ and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination issues

By John A. Simon, Stew Abrams, Tim Bradburne, Dan Bryant, Matthew Burns, Daniel Cassidy, John Cherry, Sheau‐Yun (Dora) Chiang, Douglas Cox, Michelle Crimi, Elizabeth Denly, Bill DiGuiseppi, Jim Fenstermacher, Stephanie Fiorenza, Joseph Guarnaccia, Nathan Hagelin, Linda Hall, John Hesemann, Erika Houtz, Stephen S. Koenigsberg, Francois Lauzon, Jeffrey Longsworth, Tom Maher, Angus McGrath, Ravi Naidu, Charles J. Newell, Beth L. Parker Tadbir Singh, Paul Tomiczek, and Rick Wice
September 23, 2019
DOI: 10.1002/rem.21624


Sixty leading members of the scientific, engineering, regulatory, and legal communities assembled for the PFAS Experts Symposium in Arlington, Virginia on May 20 and 21, 2019 to discuss issues related to per‐ and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) based on the quickly evolving developments of PFAS regulations, chemistry and analytics, transport and fate concepts, toxicology, and remediation technologies.  The Symposium created a venue for experts with various specialized skills to provide opinions and trade perspectives on existing and new approaches to PFAS assessment and remediation in light of lessons learned managing other contaminants encountered over the past four decades. The following summarizes several consensus points developed as an outcome of the Symposium:

  • Regulatory and policy issues: The response by many states and the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to media exposure and public pressure related to PFAS contamination is to relatively quickly initiate programs to regulate PFAS sites. This includes the USEPA establishing relatively low lifetime health advisory levels for PFAS in drinking water and even more stringent guidance and standards in several states. In addition, if PFAS are designated as hazardous substances at the federal level, as proposed by several Congressional bills, there could be wide‐reaching effects including listing of new Superfund sites solely for PFAS, application of stringent state standards, additional characterization and remediation at existing sites, reopening of closed sites, and cost renegotiation among PRPs.

  • Chemistry and analytics: PFAS analysis is confounded by the lack of regulatory‐approved methods for most PFAS in water and all PFAS in solid media and air, interference with current water‐based analytical methods if samples contain high levels of suspended solids, and sample collection and analytical interference due to the presence of PFAS in common consumer products, sampling equipment, and laboratory materials.

  • Toxicology and risk: Uncertainties remain related to human health and ecological effects for most PFAS; however, regulatory standards and guidance are being established incorporating safety factors that result in part per trillion (ppt) cleanup objectives. Given the thousands of PFAS that may be present in the environment, a more appropriate paradigm may be to develop toxicity criteria for groups of PFAS rather than individual PFAS.

  • Transport and fate: The recalcitrance of many perfluoroalkyl compounds and the capability of some fluorotelomers to transform into perfluoroalkyl compounds complicate conceptual site models at many PFAS sites, particularly those involving complex mixtures, such as firefighting foams. Research is warranted to better understand the physicochemical properties and corresponding transport and fate of most PFAS, of branched and linear isomers of the same compounds, and of the interactions of PFAS with other co‐contaminants such as nonaqueous phase liquids. Many PFAS exhibit complex transport mechanisms, particularly at the air/water interface, and it is uncertain whether traditional transport principles apply to the ppt levels important to PFAS projects. Existing analytical methods are sufficient when combined with the many advances in site characterization techniques to move rapidly forward at selected sites to develop and test process‐based conceptual site models.

  • Existing remediation technologies and research: Current technologies largely focus on separation (sorption, ion exchange, or sequestration). Due to diversity in PFAS properties, effective treatment will likely require treatment trains. Monitored natural attenuation will not likely involve destructive reactions, but be driven by processes such as matrix diffusion, sorption, dispersion, and dilution.

The consensus message from the Symposium participants is that PFAS present far more complex challenges to the environmental community than prior contaminants. This is because, in contrast to chlorinated solvents, PFAS are severely complicated by their mobility, persistence, toxicological uncertainties, and technical obstacles to remediation—all under the backdrop of stringent regulatory and policy developments that vary by state and will be further driven by USEPA. Concern was expressed about the time, expense, and complexity required to remediate PFAS sites and whether the challenges of PFAS warrant alternative approaches to site cleanups, including the notion that adaptive management and technical impracticability waivers may be warranted at sites with expansive PFAS plumes. A paradigm shift towards receptor protection rather than broad scale groundwater/aquifer remediation may be appropriate.

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