Public help needed to prevent PFAS in everyday waste
Solid waste management professionals from around the state, are meeting to take on the challenge of per- and poly- fluorinated compounds, commonly referred to as PFAS, contaminated wastes entering their facilities. The landfills, compost facilities and recycling facilities, receive PFAS contaminated wastes when consumers and industry toss out unwanted items.
All of the solid waste facilities have a primary mission with society’s waste: to protect human health and the environment.
PFAS are a group of over 5,000 compounds created and used by industry since the 1930s. Since that time, PFAS have been used in abundance in household products like Teflon®, Scotchguard®, personal care items such as lotions, hair conditioners and deodorants, waterproof clothing and footwear, stain-free carpets and many other household items.
PFAS were also used in food packaging, including wrappers for fast food. As well, PFAS are used in fire-fighting foams, because of their ability to withstand heat and not breakdown in the presence of water.
“These compounds are everywhere and in every house,” said Gerry Neuser, chairperson of the Wisconsin Counties Solid Waste Management Association.
In fact, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has indicated that the number one exposure pathway for children, is from household dust. The primary exposure route for adults is food.
As the DNR works to develop test methods and standards for groundwater, surface water and solids, they are also identifying sources of PFAS. Solid waste facilities have been targeted as a source of PFAS. However, waste management leaders see things a bit differently.
“Solid waste facilities are receivers, not generators of PFAS,” says Meleesa Johnson, president of Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin.
Johnson adds that unless people change their consumption habits, and demand that PFAS are no longer used in their food packaging and clothing, solid waste facilities will continue to be receivers of PFAS.
The waste management industry would like to see true source reduction, not just a patchwork of regulatory standards, non-standardized sampling methods and requirements for unproven filtration systems. True source reduction, is the elimination of the use of these compounds, not just in the United States, but globally.
While the older generation of PFAS, in particular PFOA and PFOS, have been banned in the United States since the early 2000s, these compounds are still produced and used overseas. This means that products made in Asian countries, and sold online or at retail locations, may very well contain the legacy forms of PFAS.
There exist, concrete examples of how source reduction, through full or partial bans of dangerous products, worked to protect human health and the environment. When chlorofl uorocarbons compounds (CFC) were identified as a major contributor to the depletion of the ozone layer, the 1987 Montreal Protocol laid out a framework for reducing or eliminating the production of ozone-depleting compounds. Also, when there became a clear linkage between asbestos and cancer, the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule (ABPR) of 1989, banned almost all use of asbestos.
John Welch, president of the Solid Waste Association of North America-Badger Chapter, says that the waste management industry supports regulating these chemicals and sees protection of human health and the environment as a top priority.
“Waste management professionals want to make sure that money invested in managing health and environmental risks associated with PFAS, will actually net positive outcomes, not just perpetually cycle PFAS from one receiving source to the next,” he said.