EPA Updates Interim Guidance on Destruction and Disposal of PFAS Wastes

On April 8, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued interim guidance for public comment regarding the destruction and disposal of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Below, we discuss the guidance and potential implications for PFAS remediation.

The new interim guidance updates EPA’s 2020 guidance on PFAS destruction and disposal, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The interim guidance also falls within EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, which outlines EPA’s plans for approaching PFAS issues, and follows EPA’s finalization of national drinking water standards for six PFAS (discussed here). In addition, EPA recently designated two PFAS as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and issued a related PFAS enforcement policy (discussed here).

The interim guidance articulates general principles that those managing PFAS wastes should consider in choosing disposal and destruction methods and, in particular, recommends the use of three large scale technologies: landfills, underground injection, and thermal treatment.

In terms of general principles, EPA recommends that those managing PFAS wastes consider the nature of the waste, location, potential for environmental release, and other factors to determine the most appropriate destruction, disposal, or storage method. EPA also recommends prioritizing the use of destruction and disposal technologies that have a lower potential for PFAS release to the environment, while recognizing that a potential environmental release does not inherently imply direct human exposure or necessarily present unacceptable risks.

With regards to the three particular disposal and destruction methods discussed, EPA expects the lowest-risk option in many cases will be sending wastes to hazardous waste landfills. EPA particularly recommends utilizing RCRA Subtitle C landfills for wastes with relatively high levels of PFAS. The guidance also indicates that disposal by underground injection is an acceptable disposal method for some PFAS-containing fluids. However, only a small number of wells currently receive these types of wastes, and waste transportation logistics may limit which PFAS-containing fluids are appropriate for underground injection. Finally, the guidance indicates that destruction by thermal treatment can be an acceptable means of disposal, particularly utilizing commercial incinerators, cement kilns, lightweight aggregate kilns, and granular activated carbon (GAC) reactivation units with thermal oxidizers. EPA notes, though, that some “uncertainties remain about the effectiveness of thermal treatment” and recommends additional testing with EPA-approved methods when utilizing this method. In January, EPA released a new analytical test method (OTM-50) meant to help collect data and answer remaining questions related to these treatment methods, particularly regarding potentially harmful PFAS and other fluorinated products resulting from incomplete combustion.

The guidance also recognizes that other methods could be used to destroy or dispose of PFAS wastes and presents a framework for future evaluation of emerging destruction and disposal techniques. The framework incorporates consideration of several factors, including technology, material, analytical methods, disposal and destruction efficacy, community considerations, and regulatory requirements.

EPA will accept comments on the interim guidance for 180 days following publication in the Federal Register to help inform future updates.

While the guidance does not mandate using one of the recommended technologies, it does provide a good indication of what methods will be accepted by regulators for destruction and disposal of PFAS wastes. If you have any questions about the interim guidance, please reach out to a member of the firm’s Environmental group, which regularly monitors federal administrative activity with broad implications to the regulated community.


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