- Award ID(s):
- Publication Date:
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Journal Name:
- Sociological Perspectives
- Page Range or eLocation-ID:
- 631 to 656
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Despite decades of research on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), fundamental obstacles remain to addressing worldwide contamination by these chemicals and their associated impacts on environmental quality and health. Here, we propose six urgent questions relevant to science, technology, and policy that must be tackled to address the “PFAS problem”: (1) What are the global production volumes of PFAS, and where are PFAS used? (2) Where are the unknown PFAS hotspots in the environment? (3) How can we make measuring PFAS globally accessible? (4) How can we safely manage PFAS-containing waste? (5) How do we understand and describe the health effects of PFAS exposure? (6) Who pays the costs of PFAS contamination? The importance of each question and barriers to progress are briefly described, and several potential paths forward are proposed. Given the diversity of PFAS and their uses, the extreme persistence of most PFAS, the striking ongoing lack of fundamental information, and the inequity of the health and environmental impacts from PFAS contamination, there is a need for scientific and regulatory communities to work together, with cooperation from PFAS-related industries, to fill in critical data gaps and protect human health and the environment.
Occurrence and removal of poly/perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants
The presence of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has caused serious problems for drinking water supplies especially at intake locations close to PFAS manufacturing facilities, wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), and sites where PFAS-containing firefighting foam was regularly used. Although monitoring is increasing, knowledge on PFAS occurrences particularly in municipal and industrial effluents is still relatively low. Even though the production of C8-based PFAS has been phased out, they are still being detected at many WWTPs. Emerging PFAS such as GenX and F-53B are also beginning to be reported in aquatic environments. This paper presents a broad review and discussion on the occurrence of PFAS in municipal and industrial wastewater which appear to be their main sources. Carbon adsorption and ion exchange are currently used treatment technologies for PFAS removal. However, these methods have been reported to be ineffective for the removal of short-chain PFAS. Several pioneering treatment technologies, such as electrooxidation, ultrasound, and plasma have been reported for PFAS degradation. Nevertheless, in-depth research should be performed for the applicability of emerging technologies for real-world applications. This paper examines different technologies and helps to understand the research needs to improve the development of treatment processes for PFAS in wastewater streams.
When the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed by the US Congress in 1976, its advocates pointed to new generation of genotoxicity tests as a way to systematically screen chemicals for carcinogenicity. However, in the end, TSCA did not require any new testing of commercial chemicals, including these rapid laboratory screens. In addition, although the Environmental Protection Agency was to make public data about the health effects of industrial chemicals, companies routinely used the agency’s obligation to protect confidential business information to prevent such disclosures. This paper traces the contested history of TSCA and its provisions for testing, from the circulation of the first draft bill in the Nixon administration through the debates over its implementation, which stretched into the Reagan administration. The paucity of publicly available health and environmental data concerning chemicals, I argue, was a by-product of the law and its execution, leading to a situation of institutionalized ignorance, the underside of regulatory knowledge.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of synthetic organic substances with diverse structures, properties, uses, bioaccumulation potentials and toxicities. Despite this high diversity, all PFAS are alike in that they contain perfluoroalkyl moieties that are extremely resistant to environmental and metabolic degradation. The vast majority of PFAS are therefore either non-degradable or transform ultimately into stable terminal transformation products (which are still PFAS). Under the European chemicals regulation this classifies PFAS as very persistent substances (vP). We argue that this high persistence is sufficient concern for their management as a chemical class, and for all “non-essential” uses of PFAS to be phased out. The continual release of highly persistent PFAS will result in increasing concentrations and increasing probabilities of the occurrence of known and unknown effects. Once adverse effects are identified, the exposure and associated effects will not be easily reversible. Reversing PFAS contamination will be technically challenging, energy intensive, and costly for society, as is evident in the efforts to remove PFAS from contaminated land and drinking water sources.
A Review of the Applications, Environmental Release, and Remediation Technologies of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl SubstancesPer- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are pollutants that have demonstrated a high level of environmental persistence and are very difficult to remediate. As the body of literature on their environmental effects has increased, so has regulatory and research scrutiny. The widespread usage of PFAS in industrial applications and consumer products, complicated by their environmental release, mobility, fate, and transport, have resulted in multiple exposure routes for humans. Furthermore, low screening levels and stringent regulatory standards that vary by state introduce considerable uncertainty and potential costs in the environmental management of PFAS. The recalcitrant nature of PFAS render their removal difficult, but existing and emerging technologies can be leveraged to destroy or sequester PFAS in a variety of environmental matrices. Additionally, new research on PFAS remediation technologies has emerged to address the efficiency, costs, and other shortcomings of existing remediation methods. Further research on the impact of field parameters such as secondary water quality effects, the presence of co-contaminants and emerging PFAS, reaction mechanisms, defluorination yields, and the decomposition products of treatment technologies is needed to fully evaluate these emerging technologies, and industry attention should focus on treatment train approaches to improve efficiency and reduce the cost of treatment.