The forever chemical has an expiry date

In the May edition of Waste Management Review, OLEOLOGY Director Paul Callaghan will explain how the company’s filtration process can remove PFAS contaminants to below detectable levels, while bridging the gap between environmental regulation, communities and commercial interest. Here, we provide a sneak peak.

In March, the NSW Government banned the use of PFAS firefighting foam except in catastrophic circumstances – bringing the state in-line with Queensland and South Australia where foams containing the toxins are already outlawed.

“Firefighting foam is the key cause of PFAS contamination in the NSW environment with concentrations detected at airports, defence sites, emergency service facilities, training facilities, major hazard facilities, and their surrounding environments,” NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said.

“This ban on PFAS firefighting foam will significantly reduce the impact on our environment but still enable our emergency agencies to fight catastrophic fires that can have devastating impacts on life and property.”

PFAS – per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances – are a group of over +6000 human-made organofluorine compounds that have been heavily used in household and industrial applications since the 1930s.

Also known as ‘Forever Chemicals’ due to their persistency in the environment and human tissue, PFAS chemicals contain one or more carbon atoms whose carbon-hydrogen bonds are replaced by carbon-fluorine bonds.

The carbon-fluorine bonds are the shortest and strongest chemical bonds, thus its chemical reactive stability and persistency.

Much like plastic, PFAS’ strength and versatility has proved extremely valuable to industry and manufacturing. Though unlike plastic, PFAS chemicals have shown to be powerful endocrine disruptors that have long-term impacts on human-health and the environment.

While the NSW ban is certainly shining a light on the complex problem of PFAS, it follows years of legal work, scientific development and environmental and human health-driven advocacy

In January this year, for example, DuPont, Chemours and Corteva chemical companies announced a cost-sharing agreement worth $4 billion to settle lawsuits involving the historic use of PFAS chemicals in the United States.

Despite these developments, the question of how to manage existing and ongoing PFAS contamination still hangs in the air.

Enter OLEOLOGY – a Perth-based water treatment company that has been committing in-house research, field trials and product development for PFAS contaminated water since 2006.

In the time, OLEOLOGY has developed an internationally recognised technology capable of removing PFAS from water to achieve non-detectable levels.

The treatment system developed by OLEOLOGY incorporates MyCelx technology, which binds to PFAS compounds to remove them permanently from water.

The system, which can also remove all testable PFAS analytes to below detectable levels, in 1/20th of the footprint of traditional methods, greatly reduces waste volumes, with dry waste thermally oxidised to five per cent of its original mass.

This in turn significantly reduces waste transport and disposal costs, with the system producing, on average, just one pallet of waste each year.

Conventional methods of PFAS removal such as GAC and IX remove PFAS, oil and hydrocarbons from water by mechanical separation or in combination with chemical injection. This approach requires a long sequence of steps, and is prone to system failures and bottlenecks.

“Conventional water treatment plants that rely on GAC and IX for PFAS removal only work for a short period of water treatment time before breakthrough occurs,” Paul Callaghan, OLEOLOGY Director, explains.

“The residual hydrocarbon in the groundwater quickly overloads the GAC – saturating and breaking through the media, which leads to premature failure of the PFAS water polishing.”

Conversely, the MyCelx technology doesn’t just mechanically filter or separate PFAS, oil or heavy metals, but rather permanently binds with the contaminates through molecular cohesion.

Once the contaminants come in contact with MyCelx, they cannot be released back into the water.

“MyCelx filtering media cartridges are hydrophobic – after filtering PFAS from the water, the cartridges are safely handled, stored and transported as a dry waste, preferably disposed of by thermal destruction with no lingering or contingent liability associated with burial,” Paul says.

He employs an onion metaphor to explain OLEOLOGY’s filtration sequence process.

PFAS contaminants are the smallest volume at the centre of the onion, and as such, the larger outer layers must be sequentially removed prior to effectively rid water of PFAS contamination.

OLEOLOGY’s MyCelx filter works to remove oily emulsions and suspended solids first, then semi soluble organics, before removing dissolved metals and other organics.

The last stage of the one-stop-shop filtration attacks PFAS – resulting in water free of contaminants.

 You can read the full article in the May edition of Waste Management Review.

OLEOLOGY’s filtration sequence process

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