Jack Shore
April 2023

IES Webinar - Sustainable treatment of groundwater polluted with ‘forever chemicals’: how to deal with a worldwide contaminant

Image of trees and a lake

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are incredibly useful chemicals, used in coatings, waterproofing and firefighting foams. Firefighting foams in particular, have resulted in repeated discharges of contamination onto the ground in tens of thousands of locations around the world. Once in the soil, PFAS slowly discharges into the groundwater for decades, where it is highly mobile, does not readily degrade and is toxic at very low levels. This ‘perfect storm’ has resulted in large areas of aquifers, surface bodies and drinking water to be polluted across the globe. Traditional methods of contaminant removal and disposal become less viable as waste management facilities increasingly refuse to accept PFAS impacted waste. Destructive techniques are in developmental stages and require large amounts of water extraction and huge energy use to destroy very small amounts of contaminant. This raises the question of how to remediate this widespread contaminant while balancing our impact on the planet. Alternatively, an innovative ‘in situ’ approach is being used that involves slowing and retaining the contamination in the subsurface, reducing the impact on the downgradient environment and human health to safe levels. Using a micron-scale activated carbon, this approach has been used on two airport site in the UK so far and data were shown to explain how remediation is applied and the results achieved. The sustainability of the approach was discussed, including a comparison of the alternative pump and disposal approach.

This webinar was organised as part of our IES members webinar series. If you would like to be part of our member webinar series, please submit your information here.