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PFAS Re-Foamed: A Treatment Breakthrough

Dora Chiang
PFAS foam may re-concentrate after being released in the environment, and during processes like wastewater treatment, raising the possibility of a new treatment solution.

Right now, scientists are working on treatment strategies that will not just reduce PFAS concen­tra­tions, but destroy any traces of the chemicals. As states continue to reduce acceptable PFAS exposure to nearly non-detect levels, research and development of destruction strategies has only become more important. Known as a “treatment train,” these solutions usually involve three stages: Separate. Concentrate. Destroy. One of the more promising ways to separate PFAS  involves leveraging a naturally occurring phenomenon called foam frac­tion­a­tion. 

PFAS colliding with air pockets

Under certain conditions, proteins, detergents and fluoro-surfactants (like PFAS) can collide with pockets of air, which carry them toward the surface and collec­tively form bubbles or foam. The right conditions can be as simple as pouring a beer. Carbon dioxide carries proteins formed during the fermen­ta­tion process to the top of the glass, giving it it’s unique foam “head.” But the foam frac­tion­a­tion process also holds great potential to effectively separate PFAS, and ultimately destroy it. Due to the surfactant nature of PFAS compounds, which makes them partic­u­larly well-suited to foaming, re-foamed PFAS has been observed in cont­a­m­i­nated lakes and rivers. And, during the wastewater and landfill treatment processes, it is not uncommon to generate a layer of foam from naturally occurring sources and organic surfactants.  


CDM Smith researchers like Dr. Charles Schaefer have observed PFAS uptake at air-water interfaces—in other words, foam—and have developed PFAS air-water interface parti­tion­ing coef­fi­cients. While PFAS-specific treatment tech­nolo­gies applicable for landfill leachate and wastewater treatment plants are still under development, the PFAS uptake phenomenon by air-water interface (i.e., foam) may allow the foam to be properly skimmed off and collected.  


This process, known as foam frac­tion­a­tion, has been studied using PFAS-impacted landfill leachate in recent months. The treatment appears to be highly effective for all but the smallest and largest PFAS molecules. There is the potential to apply foam frac­tion­a­tion at wastewater reclamation facilities, in-situ groundwater remediation sites, and to treat RO concentrate and inves­ti­ga­tion-derived wastes. 


CDM Smith PFAS & emerging cont­a­m­i­nants practice leader Dr. Dora Chiang reviews the literature, latest findings and upside potential of foam frac­tion­a­tion in a down­load­able white paper (6 minute read time).

Dora Chiang Dora Chiang
The future of PFAS is about options: optimizing upstream treatment technology, reducing downstream waste generation, and destroying PFAS.
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Download "PFAS Re-Foamed"
https://www.cdmsmith.com/en/sitecore/media-library/White-Papers/Foam-Fractionation-Newsletter
Read on for an in-depth look at the surfactant properties of PFAS and how they led to a new treatment break­through.
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