What is PFAS?

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May 16, 2019

Highlights

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, are a group of man-made chemicals that are resistant to heat, water, and oil.

Although manufacturers have since phased out the use of PFAS in many consumer products, they are still used in some industrial and speciality applications including:

  • certain types of fire-fighting foams
  • metal plating and plastics etching
  • photo-imaging applications
  • aviation hydraulic fluid
  • in the manufacture of some non-stick cookware
  • fabric, furniture and stain protection applications
  • some food packaging

(Source: Department of the Environment and Energy)

There are many types of PFAS, the best known examples are:

  • Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)
  • Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)
  • Perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS)

Why is PFAS a concern?

Australia’s Department of Health considers the release of PFAS into the environment as an emerging concern because PFAS:

  • is highly persistent
  • can move long distances in the environment
  • have been shown to be toxic to fish and some animals

PFAS compounds have the potential to accumulate in the bodies of fish, animals and people who come into contact with them. However, the Department of Health reports that there is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects.

More recently, PFAS compounds have been found in sites where fire-fighting foams have been used. These chemicals have since contaminated the soil, surface and ground water, and moved into adjoining land areas.

PFAS treatment methods

Cleanaway offers a range of PFAS treatment methods for decontaminating and destroying PFAS in water, soil, and foam including:

  • PLASCON®
  • Thermal Oxidation
  • Thermal Desorption
  • PFAS Optimised Physio Chemical Water Treatment
  • Chemical Immobilisation and Solidification

Plasma arc destruction (PLASCON®)

The PLASCON® process is a patented plasma arc technology refined by Cleanaway for PFAS treatment. It can destroy chemical compounds at a rate of 35 to 40kg/h, with no harmful emissions.

There is no incineration involved in the PLASCON® process. Instead, it uses a process called pyrolysis to separate molecules into its component atoms and ions. Contaminants are eliminated at a rate of 99.99%, exceeding the most stringent standards set by global government agencies.

Thermal desorption

Thermal desorption is a physical separation process where heat is used to separate contaminants from solids. Evaporated contaminants are either converted to carbon dioxide and water, or condensed and collected for disposal.

PFAS treatment in action

Cleanaway’s services offered for PFAS include:

  • Concentrate handling
  • Concentrate treatment and disposal
  • Contaminated soil treatment
  • Groundwater treatment
  • Spill response

Key markets:

  • Oil and gas
  • Aviation
  • Defence fire
  • Fire protection

Ship fire at a port in NSW

Water and foam used to put out a ship fire were discovered to contain slight traces of PFOS. Acting on EPA’s regulations to have the material treated at a licensed facility, Cleanaway promptly arranged a tanker fleet to transport the 7ML contaminated liquid to be treated at our Homebush liquid treatment plant.

PFAS impacted liquids from an airline hangar in Brisbane

A faulty pressure gauge in a Brisbane hangar caused 22,000 litres of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF™) to leak. Authorities in charge of the hangar were not able to process the liquid containing contaminants such as glycol or caustic soda. Our Narangba team stepped in to treat the PFAS-impacted liquid waste through filtration and chemical fixation according to Queensland’s regulations.

PFAS decontamination and removal at Brisbane bus depots

Several bus depots at Eagle Farm and Sherwood required urgent removal and flushing of C8 foam from their foam deluge systems. Our PLASCON® solution was used to treat and fully decontaminate the PFAS-impacted liquids and equipment.

Looking for a full range of PFAS services?

Contact us today to find out how we’re making a sustainable future possible with our specialised waste treatment technologies.