New Emerging Contaminants Creating Potential Problems for Parties Remediating Sites

Posted on October 16th, 2018

Every now and then new analytical capabilities allow scientists to identify chemicals in the environment that previously were not detectable. When that happens, property owners dealing with site remediation cases all over New Jersey find themselves facing a problem they didn’t know they had.

A compound that recently caused this type of issue is I,4-dioxane. Since around 2010, updated analytical methods made it possible to detect this compound at extremely low levels (i.e., tenths of a part per billion). The NJDEP mandated sampling and analysis at various sites in NJ to evaluate 1,4-dioxane at these low levels, and many property owners found themselves dealing with a compound that most of the environmental community knew very little about, particularly with regard to options for remediation. As time goes by, resources are allocated to understanding these compounds and addressing them, and eventually investigation and remediation of the emerging compound is normalized, and all is well…until the next “crisis” comes along.

We are now beginning to see the effects of the next “crisis.” The latest “contaminants of emerging concern” to become an issue are the Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) (with specific breakdowns being Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Perfluorononanoic Acid (PFNA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic Acid (PFOS)). PFAS have been used in a wide variety of industrial and commercial processes and products, including, but not limited to: electroplating and metal finishing, vapor/mist suppression, stain repellants, electronics, aerospace, automotive, insecticide/herbicides, adhesives/varnish/paints, as well as coatings for textiles such as fabric, rug, and paper. You can tell by the list of uses for these compounds that they are everywhere. The risk associated with these contaminants is that even at low levels, they can cause adverse health effects, as they persist (bioaccumulate) in the body for many years.

While the health risks are becoming better understood, there are complications associated with the investigation of these compounds. For starters, the fact that the new analytical methods have extremely low detection limits (parts per trillion) and these compounds are used in many everyday materials (detergents, plastics, etc.) means that these compounds are found in the samples collected at a lot of sites. Further, many jurisdictions do not yet have promulgated remediation standards for these compounds.

JMS is working hard to stay up to date on regulatory developments regarding the PFAS and is working with laboratories and remediation vendors and contractors to better understand the options for investigating and remediating these compounds. JMS is committed to working closely with its clients to understand the implications of the presence of these contaminants, and would be happy to talk with you if you think you may have this issue at your property.

For more information about Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, please visit the NJDEP Site Remediation Program’s web page about Contaminants of Emerging Concern (PFAS).

James Vander Vliet, PE, LSRP

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