PFAS – in Water

PFAS – in Water
Katharina Mittag Senior Project Manager
Due to their water-repellent, stain-repellent and grease-repellent characteristics, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) versatilely used in the industry as well as in consumer products, but also in fire extinguishing foams. Therefore, PFAS are widespread worldwide and have found their way into the environement and waters around the globe.

Eternal Environmental Pollutants

Nowadays, those extremely robust fluorine containing substances are found in grounds and sediments, in surface water and in groundwater, but also in flora and fauna and even in blood. These vast contaminations in grounds and waters are often caused by commercial or industrial processes, aqueous film forming fire extinguishing foams or hazardous waste. PFAS also end up in the water circulation via leakage water from landfills, through sewage sludge from water treatment or by means of industrial wastewater. This way they get into the human organism, possibly with health threatening impact if highly concentrated.

Treating PFAS Contaminated Waters

Due to their persistence, PFAS will remain in the environment for a long time, they will continue to spread and will be found in various media. For some chemical bonds, regulations do exist already with further legal requirements regarding defined parameters to follow within the following years.

For this reason, municipal providers as well as communities will increasingly be forced to deal with PFAS in drinking water, surface water, ground water, leakage water, sewage sludge and in other waste streams, requiring additional extraction methods for these media.

We are the ones to turn to when it comes to PFAS.
Katharina Mittag, PFAS expert

Evaluating and Treating PFAS Cont­a­m­i­na­tion in Water

Chosing the appropriate treatment technique for PFAS is dependent on various location specific criteria. There are multiple methods of reducing or completely eliminating PFAS bonds. These techniques include:

  • Ion-exchange resins (IX) (coombined with destructive methods to treat regeneration fluids)
  • Electrochemical treatment
  • UV reductive treatment
  • Reverse osmosis (RO)
Granulated activated carbon (GAC)

This method is the most widespread treatment of PFAS in water: some PFAS like PFOA and PFOS adsorb at the active carbon‘s surface and thus can be extracted from the water. CDM Smith is an expert in this method – we not only support you with the apllication of GAC but also with the treatment and disposal of used GAC. WHile GAC is particularly used for long-chained PFAS, this method is less efective with short-chained PFAS bonds.


Anion Exchange (AIX)

This method uses synthetic resins, produced from polymeres with charged groups. These resins retain the hazardous substances and thus purify the water, while their performance can be manipulated by various parameters. AIX just like GAC has been implemented successfully at numerous project locations with research findings verifying that AIX is also suitable to treat short-chained PFAS.


Diaphragm Technology

Despite this technology not being as common as GAC or AIX, it also has been evaluated as to how effectively PFAS can be treated this way. Reverse osmosis (RO) is apllied in industrial processes as well as in drinking water treatment. RO operates with a two-chamber system. PFAS contaminated water is forced from the first chamber throug a membrane into the second chamber with the PFAS concetrate remaining in the first chamber. The nano-filtration or rather low pressure reverse osmosis (LPRO) is also a proven treatment for succesful elimination of PFAS, including short-chained bonds. 

Katharina Mittag Katharina Mittag
We will only be able to enjoy life, nature and our environment as long as we look after this planet.
Katharina Mittag Senior Project Manager
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CDM Smith has vast experience worldwide with the treatment of PFAS contaminated ground, surface and potable water. For 70 years now we have been providing our clients with innovative solutions in the filed of water treatment.