Forever Chemicals – How They Are Changing Procedures For Environmental Consultants

The Broadbent Denver division attended the Emerging Contaminants Summit 2020 in Colorado in March 2020. As part of this summit there was a discussion regarding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a general term applied to thousands of chemicals manufactured since the 1940’s that can be found in food packaging (microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, etc.), stain and water resistant fabrics, non-stick products, fire-fighting foams, and many other consumer and manufacturing products, and are utilized due to their unique surfactant and oil/water repelling qualities. PFAS are one of the biggest issues on the horizon due to their classification as “Forever Chemicals”, meaning that they do not breakdown once they are in the environment. PFAS also bioaccumulate in the food chain and end up in humans primarily due to ingestion of food or water contaminated with the chemicals.

At elevated levels, PFAS may cause low infant birth rates, effects on the immune system, and even cancer. Although there are currently no actionable EPA standards for PFAS, the EPA has just issued interim recommendations for two of the more prominent PFAS, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), with screening levels of 40 parts per trillion (ppt) in groundwater and a preliminary remediation goal of 70 ppt for groundwater that is a source of drinking water. Several states have also derived their own stricter drinking water-based standards with California leading the way at 5.1 ppt for PFOA and 6.5 ppt for PFOS.

So, what does this mean?

Over the next few years, expect more EPA and state regulations, particularly for facilities with water/wastewater systems, airports, or landfills. PFAS contamination in drinking water, surface water, groundwater, and soils will be a hot topic, and a team of Broadbent staff are currently working on developing Standard Operating Procedures for collecting samples of media that may be impacted by PFAS. Because PFAS are in so many products and the needed detection levels are in the parts per trillion, we cannot use most of our typical sampling equipment that contains Teflon® or LDPE plastic, and many sampling supplies such as plastic clipboards, Post-It® notes, and blue ice packs can contaminate samples. Even field samplers should not wear shoes or clothing containing stain and water repellants such as Gore-Tex® or materials containing Tyvek®, and are advised not to wear cosmetics, sunscreen, or insect repellants on sampling days.

For more information on PFAS, feel free to contact Jason Hoffman at

Article by Jason Hoffman, Division Manager for Denver, Colorado.

Tags: Contaminants, Broadbent, PFAS, EPA, manufactured chemicals, forever chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, PFOA, PFOS, regulations, SOP

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