Removal of legacy PFAS and other fluorotelomers: Optimized regeneration strategies in DOM-rich waters

By Fuhar Dixit, Benoit Barbeau, Shadan Ghavam Mostafavi, and Madjid Mohseni
Water Res.
July 21, 2020
DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2020.116098

We present the first study investigating optimized regeneration strategies for anionic ion exchange (IX) resins during the removal of persistent per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS, including GenX) from surface and treated wastewater effluents. IX regeneration studies are of critical importance from environmental perspectives. Specifically, the knowledge is essential for water utilities who presently operate IX (for PFAS removal) in a single use-and-dispose mode. In this study, legacy PFAS such as PFOA/PFOS were tested along with other harmful short-chained PFAS (PFBA/PFBS) and other toxic perfluorinated substitutes (GenX). Studies were performed on synthetic water (spiked with Suwannee River Natural Organic Matter (SRNOM), Fulvic Acid (SRFA) and Humic Acid (SRHA)), surface water, and wastewater effluents, and the regeneration was performed in batch stirred reactors. The resin service life with and without regeneration was investigated in the presence of background organic matter. In ultra-pure waters, all PFAS (C0 ∼10 μg/L, concentrations similar to that of natural waters) were effectively removed for >100,000 Bed Volume (BV) of operation. This was reduced to ∼23,500 BV in the presence of SRNOM (C0 = 5 mg C/L), 20,500 BV in SRFA and 8500 BV in SRHA, after which the saturated resins required regeneration. More importantly, all resin breakthrough (PFAS> 70 ng/L) corresponded to > 90% resin site saturation (in meqs), an essential information for optimizing IX loading. The competitive dissolved organic matter (DOM) fractions were estimated to be approximately 5-9% of the initial DOC, as estimated by the IAST-EBC model. Finally, it was identified that IX regeneration efficiency improved with increasing brine contact time but effectiveness plateaued for brine concentrations above 10% (W/V). Nonetheless, a regeneration with 10% NaCl solution with a contact time of 2 h was found to be optimal for IX operations in synthetic and natural waters. Therefore, this study provides key knowledge essential for the scientific community and the water industry on optimizing IX operational parameters for DOM and PFAS removal and would be highly valuable for systems which presently operate IX in a use-and-dispose mode.

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