PFAS Challenges - Our Experiences and Solutions
Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS), while classified by the US EPA as “emerging” contaminants, have been in the news and the subject of litigation suits for more than a decade. In lieu of clear federal human health or ecological standards, individual states, one-by-one, are instituting provisional drinking water standards and are increasingly issuing mandates to collect samples, analyze for PFAS and report results.
Additionally, non-government organizations (NGOs) are applying pressure to river basin and estuary oversight agencies to lower permissible limits and require costly remedial corrective action to entities impacting the basins and estuaries. Current analytical methods address about 26 analytes, yet thousands of different PFAS chemicals are present in environmental media.
What are PFAS?
PFAS are man-made chemicals that have been manufactured and widely used since the 1940’s. PFAS can be found in:
- Food (from packages made with PFAS, processing facilities using PFAS, or soil/groundwater that has been contaminated with PFAS)
- Household products such as cleaners, cosmetics, and cookware
- Drinking water
- Workplace (production facilities or industries that use PFAS)
- Living organisms that have been exposed to PFAS
Studies have shown that exposure to PFAS can have adverse health effects on humans and animals, including: low birth weights, immunological effects, cancer (PFOA) and thyroid hormone disruption (PFOS).
Sampling and Analytical Challenges
PFAS compounds are ubiquitous in the environment – they are everywhere. Drilling equipment and traditional sampling equipment may contain material that are made of, or contaminated with, PFAS. Environmental contractors collecting samples have the potential to introduce PFAS simply through their use of personal care products such as shampoo, nail polish and some cosmetics.
Sampling and analyzing environmental media to “parts per trillion” levels is technically challenging, but is particularly challenging for analytes that are widespread in the environment.
Inconsistencies in laboratory analysis methods make data comparability unreliable and unlikely. Some laboratories use non-US EPA methods such as ASTM D7979-17. Laboratory instruments that are used to analyze for PFAS are not common in most full-service laboratories and can become unstable due to temperature and humidity effects. And there are a limited number of laboratory performance standards that are essential for evaluating laboratory performance.
Environmental Standards has 17 years of experience with PFAS chemicals. We have:
- Reviewed a major chemical manufacturing company’s internal laboratory procedure for preparation and analysis for PFOA in treated and untreated articles-of-commerce to address a US EPA consent order-driven groundwater investigation
- Installed and validated PFAS extraction and liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS) analytical capabilities for drinking water and wastewater in an industrial and commercial laboratory
- Provided quality assurance (QA) support on an increasing number of independent studies on the toxicity and environmental occurrence of PFAS
- Critically reviewed PFAS data quality under a tight schedule to allow those data to be presented at a public forum and subsequent legal proceedings
- Critically reviewed a contracted laboratory’s QA/quality control (QC) procedures, extraction techniques, and high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) MS/MS analytical method for regulatory reporting
- Critically reviewed and corrected miscalculated values and identified both qualitative and quantitative issues that affected the drinking water data that were already released to the public
- Audited commercial, industrial and agency PFAS laboratories since 2008
- Provided oversight of a critical third-party review of an HPLC MS/MS analytical procedure in 2001
- Closely followed PFAS method development and changes in instrumentation, reagents and standards
Our professionals at Environmental Standards have developed innovative and cost-effective solutions to overcome PFAS challenges. We are able to support our client’s PFAS efforts by:
- Implementing a robust QA/QC sampling and analysis program
- Writing/reviewing sampling procedures
- Writing/reviewing analytical specifications
- Vetting laboratories analytical capabilities
- Assisting industry in developing PFAS extraction and analytical capabilities
- Auditing sampling events and PFAS laboratories
- Performing critical data validation
- Troubleshooting improperly generated suspicious data
- Providing electronic data management for large PFAS data sets