How PFAS could prevent the safe reuse of wastewater treatments

  • 05.11.2022
  • Innovation Newsnetwork

PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), are a group of fully synthetic compounds that are widely used in industrial and manufacturing processes, and found in many consumer products.

PFAS, more commonly known as ‘forever chemicals’, persist through wastewater treatment at levels that could have harsh impacts on our health and ecological systems. These chemicals are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that can resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Moreover, they are found in a range of products, including clothing, furniture, food packaging, and non-stick cooking surfaces.

Potential benefits of reusing treated wastewater

Beneficial reuse of wastewater treatments has become common practice, where it is used for irrigation and other non-potable purposes. These practices provide opportunities for the soil to act as an additional filter for PFAS – which reduces the immediate impact of direct discharge of PFAS to surface water, as would typically happen following traditional wastewater treatment.

What are the health risks associated with PFAS contamination?

Current scientific studies have determined that exposure to certain levels of forever chemicals could cause:

  • Reproductive effects, such as decreased fertility or increased high blood pressure in pregnant women;
  • Developmental effects or delays in children, including low bright weight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, or behavioural changes;
  • Increased risk of some cancers, such as prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers;
  • Reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response;
  • Interference with the body’s natural hormones; and
  • Increased cholesterol levels and/or risk of obesity.

New water regulations to protect public health and the environment

Previously, attention had been focused on the presence of PFAS in drinking water; however, attention is now turning to biosolids recovered from wastewater. Heavy industrial discharges of PFAS have impacted biosolids, so environmental agencies are beginning to evaluate regulations for treated wastewater.