Fixing the Future - Emerging Contaminants

Earlier this year, the Defence Department revealed that PFOA and PFOS chemicals in fire fighting foam had contaminated the groundwater of the small Queensland town of Oakey.

Emerging Contaminants

"Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, as well as PFOA and PFOS, have been widely used in industry for things like textile coatings, non-stick cookware and electronics."

The report outlining the contaminated groundwater in Queensland's town of Oakey indicated that similar toxic ‘plumes’ are present at other Defence Bases around the country and likely to spread if testing and action isn’t taken quickly. Oakey may be tiny, but the issue caught the attention of U.S. environmental activist Erin Brockovich and the world’s media followed.

Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl substances known as PFAS, as well as PFOA and PFOS, have been widely used in industry for things like textile coatings, non-stick cookware and electronics. They’re now shaping up to be just the tip of an emerging contaminants problem as industry and government begin to focus on previously undetected or poorly understood compounds before they harm people or the environment.

A big difficulty is that until fairly recently we didn’t know a lot about them, their prevalence, the damage they do-particularly in water supply-or how to remediate them.  Tackling many of these “contaminants of emerging concern”, or CECs, is also difficult, costly and time consuming.

And PFAS are a prime example. Not only are they part of a much bigger family of compounds that bioaccumulate and are highly mobile in groundwater, but many don’t biodegrade, are extremely persistent and toxic.  Detection by commercial analytical methods is also challenging, as is effective removal by conventional wastewater and drinking water treatment processes.

Oakey may be tiny, but the issue caught the attention of U.S. environmental activist Erin Brockovich.

The good news though is just how much research and development work is going into finding solutions, with the remediation industry on the cusp of major breakthroughs set to challenge conventional treatment methods. 

Arcadis, I’m pleased to say, is part of that global effort. We’ve been working with clients for over two decades on site remediation for metals as well as chlorinated solvents and nitrates in groundwater, but are now acknowledged as leading innovators for PFAS and other emerging contaminants that now includes a pipeline of more than 40 new cutting edge concepts.

Arcadis has already developed a suite of remediation solutions for PFAS, but one of our most innovative and advanced is ScisoR®-or Smart Combined In Situ Oxidation and Reduction. We have several field trials planned for later this year in Sweden, the UK and North America to demonstrate that ScisoR can oxidize PFAS in soil or groundwater cost effectively and in situ.

PFAS are just one part of the ever growing list of CECs of course, and the world is rapidly trying to not only understand them better, but develop smarter ways to regulate, measure and remove them. We believe we can help. 

Jason Lagowski

Technical Director Ask me a question
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