PFAS

Bucks Co. officials suggest a way to eliminate ‘forever chemical’ – WHYY

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Bucks County’s drinking water provider is taking a novel approach after finding toxic chemicals above the new state and federal standards in New Hope and Solebury water wells.

Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority, or BCWSA, hopes to be the first water company to use low voltage electricity to break down “forever chemicals” instead of the more common carbon filter method.

The PFAS class, which includes hundreds of products used every day and firefighting foam , has polluted the drinking water in the Philadelphia area and across the nation.

These compounds can remain in the environment as well as the bloodstream of humans for many years. Chemicals have been linked with a number of health issues, including thyroid problems, developmental delays and cancers.

Contrary to other methods for removing PFAS from water, the technology developed by Texas-based TruClear Water Solutions does not require that water providers dispose of contaminants and leftover materials.

Erin Schulberger is the director of environmental compliance at BCWSA. There is no waste stream and no environmental harm with disposal.

BCWSA detected PFAS for the first time in New Hope wells back in 2016, long before any federal or state regulations had been enacted. This year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency <a href="https://whyy.org/articles/pfas-forever-chemicals-epa-federal-restrictions/#:~:text=New%20Jersey%20sets%20an%20MCL,those%20two%20types%20of%20PFAS. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has implemented the first federal limits for PFAS levels in drinking water. Water providers have five years to test the water and reduce the chemical levels to zero.

The New Hope and Solebury Systems of BCWSA were among nearly 200 systems in the state which contained PFAS levels higher than the new federal limit when tested from January to March this year. New Hope and Solebury also tested higher than state limits which are less strict than federal requirements.

Officials don’t know what caused the contamination of the groundwater in New Hope and Solebury. BCWSA which provides water to customers in Bucks County, Montgomery County and Chester has not detected high PFAS levels in any of their other supplies. These, unlike New Hope or Solebury, are sourced from the Delaware River.

TruClear’s technology known as Advanced Molecular Oxidation has been used previously in the oil, gas, and food industries. The filtration method, which leads to the molecular separation of pollutants, offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to the mainstay for removing PFAS, granular activated charcoal (GAC).

GAC technology is most simply explained as the unwanted compounds being absorbed by carbon.

There are environmental costs to this filtration process . The coal used to make activated carbon must be heated at high temperatures, which can release carbon dioxide.

The materials must be disposed after the activated charcoal has been used to remove the PFAS. This is often done by incineration or sending the materials to a landfill. However, this could release more carbon dioxide and leftover chemicals, which BCWSA officials want to avoid.

Ben Jones, CEO of BCWSA said: “If the chemicals leak out… they could still pollute the water and air.”

TruClear’s technology aims at making PFAS inert within the water, instead of removing them and transferring to an incinerator.

Jones stated that “we’re trying to make the ‘forever chemicals’ not forever.”

has expressed concerns over destructive technologies. Seetha Coleman Kammula, the president and executive director at PFAS Solutions, in New Castle, Del. said that PFAS can transform into other contaminants.

“[The process] could chop them up into smaller bits which can then be combined to form longer PFAS. “Are we just creating the next wave?” she asked. “[TruClear] is trying to do chemistry within the water itself. “To me, this is the most worrying part of the decision.”

Coleman-Kammula stated that it is important for companies like TruClear to analyze the water once it has been filtered in order to ensure there aren’t any chemical reactions which create additional pollutants.

TruClear didn’t immediately respond to any questions regarding these concerns.

Before a filtration system can be sold, it does not require approval by the EPA. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection must approve the BCWSA before the system can be used.

BCWSA stated that independent lab tests found the technology to be able to remove approximately 90-100% of all PFAS. DEP stated that it could not comment on the efficacy of the proposed treatment before the pilot study is completed and reviewed.

Jones said that the system will cost BCWSA over $700,000.00 a year and is cheaper than carbon filtration. He hopes that settlement dollars from a Bucks County litigationagainst PFAS producers will offset costs. Jones said that water bills are likely to rise about 4%.

He said that no matter which treatment was chosen, the rates would need to be raised to cover these costs, as they were not originally included in our operating expenses.

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