Cleaning Up PFAS with Mycoremediation
PFAS, the “forever chemical,” is a growing concern for environmentalists and the waste industry. New potential regulations on PFAS as hazardous waste could lead to CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) issues for landfills. However, experiments with mushrooms present a less invasive way to clean contaminated soil.
What is PFAS?
PFAS stands for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances; they are lengths of carbon chained together. Each carbon atom is bonded to a fluorine atom; the whole chain can vary in length, from four carbon atoms to fourteen carbon atoms in length. Different lengths of PFAS molecules can have different effects. They are waterproof, stain-resistant, and thermally stable, making them perfect for a wide variety of products. PFAS is used in food packaging, non-stick cookware, cosmetics, and more. However, their stability means they never break down in the environment, thus the nickname of “forever chemical.”
PFAS is found everywhere, from soil to groundwater to human blood. In the early 2000s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a health advisory about PFAS after its potential harmful side effects were discovered. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOA) were outright banned for future use, and governments across the globe agree to phase out PFOA. After the health advisory, the EPA created plans to address public health concerns. These plans could have massive impacts on landfills and the solid waste industry.
PFAS In Landfills
Many PFAS-coated materials, from chip bags to old raincoats, end up in landfills. These materials break down and release PFAS. Water such as rain filters the waste, becoming leachate. PFAS can be found in this leachate, which can then be absorbed into the groundwater or discharged to wastewater treatment plants. Research is still being done into PFAS in the gas discharged by landfills.
As PFAS regulations evolve, specifically the potential of a CERCLA hazardous substance designation, it’s important for the waste industry to start to act now. There are already promising methods of removing PFAS from soil. For example, passing the contaminated soil through granular activated carbon shows great potential. However, many potential methods are intensive and can be expensive; a novel new idea could provide an easier method.
Mycoremediation and Pollution
“Mycoremediation” is the process of using fungi to clean up pollution. Many studies have shown that fungi can break down plastics and petroleum, and mushrooms draw up pollutants like heavy metals from the soil. Usually, contaminated soil must be dug up and taken to a landfill, an expensive and time-consuming process. With mycoremediation, the contaminated soil doesn’t need to be thrown away; instead, the mushrooms can be composted, if no contaminants are found in the mushrooms, or disposed of.
Compared to studies down with petroleum and plastic, research into using fungi to clean up PFAS contaminated. Current research shows that while the PFAS remains in the fruiting body of the fungi, there was less PFAS in the soil. Obviously more research is needed, but the results are promising.
Mycoremediation is still in the experimental stages but has great potential as a noninvasive way to clean up soil. Fundamentally, the issues surrounding PFAS will be grow as time goes on; however, methods of dealing with PFAS will grow alongside them.
Make sure to check out our other work on this subject for more information, as we try to publish articles regularly. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to leave a comment. Come tell us your story. With more than three decades of experience in these types of issues in Oregon, we have a deep understanding of how regulations can intersect with land use issues and development projects. For a consultation with our Portland office, call or email us directly. Make sure to follow us on Linkedin and message us there if you have any questions.
Bolyard, S & MacGinnis, S. PFAS Regulations and Its Impacts to the Industry. SWANA, 25 Jun 2021. Webinar.
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Mentzer, R. “To clean contaminated soil, central Wisconsin pilot project tries growing mushrooms.” Wisconsin Public Radio, 29 November 2021, https://www.wpr.org/clean-contaminated-soil-central-wisconsin-pilot-project-tries-growing-mushrooms.
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