EPA working toward establishing standards for "forever chemicals"
PFAS – also known as forever chemicals - are the next challenge that water reclamation plants will be faced with treating.
PFAS – which stands for Per and Polyfluorinated Substances - are found in hundreds of thousands of products. They’re in everything from ski wax to non-stick cookware to dental floss.
Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation Director Mike Luers says along with pharmaceuticals and microplastics, PFAS are another emerging contaminant currently being studied by the Environmental Protection Agency. He expects that the EPA will be releasing some regulatory limits of PFAS in the near future.
“PFAS compounds are referred to as forever chemicals meaning they do not break down in the environment. They're exceedingly tough molecularly bonded together, the atoms are, and it's really tough to break them down. So, all that water that contains PFAS enters the wastewater system when you use it. Now you add to it. PFAS compounds that may be coming off of your ski clothing when you wash it. When you wash your nonstick pans. PFS compounds are in hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of compounds including toothpaste and shampoo. And we end up with all that.
Removing the compounds will be expensive, but Luers says it’s something that can be treated.
“There's really only two ways to do it,” Luers explained. “One is ion exchange, but the preferred method that we've been testing is activated carbon. So, think of the activated carbon, maybe if you've ever had an aquarium, and you got the little box of activated carbon in the back, that takes out the organic molecules that that are a problem. PFAS compounds are molecular, organic molecules, and that carbon captures those molecules. So, you're removing it by using that process.”
The water reclamation district just finished expanding the Silver Creek plant and is currently expanding the East Canyon plant. At this point, Luers says his agency is not including plans to treat PFAS compounds until it hears back from the EPA about what the regulatory limits will be.