This article discusses the challenges and potential solutions for managing wastewater sludge that contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), using the experience in Maine as a guide toward addressing the issue nationally. Traditional wastewater treatment, designed to remove excess organic waste and nutrients, does not eliminate persistent toxic pollutants like PFAS, instead partitioning the chemicals between discharged effluent and the remaining solids in sludge. PFAS chemistry, the molecular size, the alkyl chain length, fluorine saturation, the charge of the head group, and the composition of the surrounding matrix influence PFAS partitioning between soil and water. Land application of sludge, incineration, and storage in a landfill are the traditional management options. Land application of Class B sludge on agricultural fields in Maine peaked in the 1990s, totaling over 2 × 106 cu yd over a 40-year period and has contaminated certain food crops and animal forage, posing a threat to the food supply and the environment. Additional Class A EQ (Exceptional Quality) composted sludge was also applied to Maine farmland. The State of Maine banned the land application of wastewater sludge in August 2022. Most sludge was sent to the state-owned Juniper Ridge Landfill, which accepted 94 270 tons of dewatered sludge in 2022, a 14% increase over 2019. Between 2019 and 2022, the sum of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) concentrations in sludge sent to the landfill ranged from 1.2 to 104.9 ng/g dw. In 2022, the landfill generated 71.6 × 106 l of leachate. The concentration of sum of six PFAS in the leachate increased sixfold between 2021 and 2022, reaching 2 441 ng/l. The retention of PFAS within solid-waste landfills and the potential for long-term release of PFAS through liners into groundwater require ongoing monitoring. Thermal treatment, incineration, or pyrolysis can theoretically mineralize PFAS at high temperatures, yet the strong C–F bond and reactivity of fluorine require extreme temperatures for complete mineralization. Future alternatives may include interim options such as preconditioning PFAS with nonpolar solvents prior to immobilization in landfills, removing PFAS from leachate, and interrupting the cycle of PFAS moving from landfill, via leachate, to wastewater treatment, and then back to the landfill via sludge. Long-term solutions may involve destructive technologies such as electron beam irradiation, electrochemical advanced oxidation, or hydrothermal liquefaction. The article highlights the need for innovative and sustainable solutions for managing PFAS-contaminated wastewater sludge.
Management of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-laden wastewater sludge in Maine: Perspectives on a wicked problem
Simin Moavenzadeh Ghaznavi, Charity Zimmerman, Molly E. Shea, Jean D. MacRae, John M. Peckenham, Caroline L. Noblet, Onur G. Apul, A. Dianne Kopec; Management of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)-laden wastewater sludge in Maine: Perspectives on a wicked problem. Biointerphases 1 July 2023; 18 (4): 041004. https://doi.org/10.1116/6.0002796
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