Charting the Unknown: Unraveling PFAS, Regulations and Industry Concerns

Apr 16, 2024, 17:55 PM
Content author:
Arnulfo Moreno
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Per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continue to gain attention by policymakers and regulators across the nation. The panelists at this session during ISRI2024 covered these widespread chemicals, with a specific focus on their multi-layered legislative and regulatory patchwork, and the specific challenges they pose to the industry.

ISRI’s Chief Scientist and Director of Environmental Management David Wagger started by giving an overview of PFAS, sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals.” Wagger stressed that there is no universal definition of PFAS as it varies by regulation citing TSC, CERCLA and RCRA as examples. He gave a brief history of the substances, having been synthesized in the 1930’s/1940’s and currently used in a variety of products including adhesives, cleaning material, metals and more. Wagger explained that better detection methods and increased scientific understanding are some of the major factors as to why PFAS has recently been seen with such concern.

Sarah Grace Hughes, Senior Project Manager at the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), highlighted the work her organization is producing regarding PFAS. ECOS produced and updates a white paper – Processes & Considerations for Setting State PFAS Standards – every year that shows how states set PFAS standards. Hughs also covered the PFAS Risk Communication Hub, which has a variety of resources to help communicate best practices to help states effectively and efficiently address contamination.

Erin Bulson is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in civil and environmental engineering, with a certificate in energy analysis and policy. Bulson presented on PFAS in the metal recycling stream, highlighting knowledge gaps in end-of-life materials. She also looked at PFAS in vehicles and in paper. One of the things Bulson stressed throughout her presentation was that there is still not a lot of data out there.

The panelists addressed some of the key challenges PFAS poses to recycled materials industry. One challenge is that there is too big of a knowledge gap on both the industry and regulatory side. Another complicated issue concerns determining how to separate components with PFAS and those without PFAS. What does that do to the economic model of recycling vehicles? What is going to be regulated? What is harmful? The panel agreed that efforts should continue to make sure PFAS is addressed at the source and keeping it out of the environment. Another challenge is the gap between what the public has been informed of that is risky and what can currently be measured accurately.

Panelists provided some actions the recycled materials industry can take including engaging regulators and legislators so that they understand how PFAS is entering recycling facilities and to have a meaningful dialogue on life cycle of products.

Per-and-polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) continue to gain attention by policymakers and regulators across the nation. The...

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