A new and massively costly complication is changing environmental liability: cleanup of hazardous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in aqueous film-forming foams or AFFFs. Commonly used throughout the United States, these Class B firefighting foams are used to extinguish fires involving flammable and combustible liquids, oils, gases, and more. PFAS are held to some of the toughest cleanup standards among regulated contaminants. To make matters more challenging, there are few technologies proven to do the job – and many associated costs.
Cleanup costs of PFAS compounds in AFFF can be 5 to 20 times more than those of fuels released from a petroleum storage facility.1
What creates such high costs?
PFAS waste is managed by waste disposal companies as federal hazardous waste. Disposal costs are often nearly double the typical cost of disposal of petroleum-impacted waste. There are several factors at work here:
- Limited soil treatment options. The only proven methods for treating PFAS in soil are excavation followed by landfill disposal or destruction via incinerator – both of which are costlier than methods used to dispose of other contaminants.
- Limited soil treatment resources. Because of the potential for extraordinary liability, only a limited number of landfills and incinerators accept PFAS waste.
- High transport costs. With facilities few and far between, transporting PFAS-impacted soil can be four times higher than transporting petroleum-impacted waste.1
- Limited groundwater treatment options. Only ex-situ technologies that include groundwater extraction wells and above-groundwater treatment systems with granular activated carbon or ion exchange resins are proven to treat PFAS in groundwater.
- Long-term groundwater costs. A groundwater extraction and treatment system may need to operate for as long as 40 years, entailing significant operation and maintenance costs.
- Strict federal standards. The acceptable rate of PFAS is notably low, requiring a greater effort and more funds to achieve.
Breaking down cleanup costs
This outline of cleanup costs associated with PFAS contamination following a typical energy industry fuel fire shows the considerable scope of this threat.
Collection and disposal of 1M gallons of AFFF, water, and fuel at hazardous waste management facility
$12M to $54M
The projected cost for soil cleanup
$10M to $15M
The projected cost for groundwater cleanup
One year of stormwater runoff management (collection, transport, and disposal of 800,000 gallons of runoff at hazardous waste management facility)
$26.05M to $73.05M