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PFAS in Landfill Leachate

Frank Hammond Aug. 15, 2023

Modern society has brought many conveniences, from non-stick cookware to water-repellent clothing. But as with many innovations, there are often unintended consequences. One such consequence is the environmental and health implications surrounding a group of chemicals called PFAS, especially when they end up in landfill leachate.

What are PFAS?

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in various industries around the world since the 1940s. They are found in a wide range of consumer products like food packaging, stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, and fire-fighting foams.

PFAS are known for their resilience. They don’t break down easily in the environment or in the human body, leading to their nickname “forever chemicals.” Over time, concerns have grown about their potential health impacts, including links to cancer, developmental issues in fetuses, liver problems, and impacts on the immune system.

PFAS and Landfills

Landfills are the final resting place for many consumer products and waste materials. As these products degrade, the chemicals they contain can leach out. This leachate is a combination of water that has percolated through the landfill and the assorted chemicals it has collected along the way.

PFAS are increasingly being detected in landfill leachate. Given their widespread use and resilience, this isn’t surprising. However, the problem arises when this leachate is managed improperly. If the leachate seeps into groundwater, it can contaminate local water supplies, putting both ecosystems and human populations at risk.

Addressing the Issue

There are several strategies that can be implemented to tackle PFAS in landfill leachate:

  • Improved Landfill Design: Modern landfills can be designed to be more secure, with better liners and leachate collection systems. These measures can prevent PFAS and other contaminants from entering the groundwater.

  • Treatment Technologies: Scientists and engineers are working on advanced treatment technologies for removing PFAS from leachate. Methods such as granular activated carbon, ion exchange resins, and advanced oxidation processes are being evaluated and improved upon for their efficacy in treating PFAS-laden leachate.

  • Reducing PFAS at the Source: One of the most effective ways to address the problem is to reduce or eliminate the use of PFAS in products. Companies can seek alternatives to PFAS, and regulatory bodies can limit or ban their use in specific applications.

  • Monitoring and Reporting: Increased testing of landfill leachate for PFAS can provide a clearer picture of the scale of the problem. Regular monitoring and transparency in reporting will also ensure that affected communities are informed and can take appropriate precautions.

The Road Ahead

PFAS in landfill leachate is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach. It’s an example of how the conveniences of modern life can sometimes lead to challenges we hadn’t anticipated. By understanding these challenges and proactively seeking solutions, we can ensure that we protect both our environment and public health.

If you’re curious about how the EPA’s New PFAS Regulations will affect Oregon, check out our article and make sure to come back for more great content like this. We have an extensive history of working on these types of issues, with over 35 years of legal practice. To speak with us about hazardous waste issues, land use issues, PFAS litigation, permit requirements, applications and appeals, schedule a consultation with us or through email. Make sure to follow us on Linkedin and message us if you have any questions.