Forever chemicals: Understanding the risks of PFAS
What are they, where are they, and what can we do about them?
Scroll to explore
What are PFAS?
Known as the “forever chemicals” Per-and polyfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) are a group of chemicals that have the strongest carbon-fluorine bonds in organic chemistry. In other words, they don’t break down naturally. Because of their persistence, and the potential health risks to humans and the environment, some PFAS have been, or are being, phased out from use in many parts of the world. There are great benefits to using PFAS in consumer and industrial products, but there are also drawbacks when considering their impact on the environment and the health of people, plants, and animals.
For more information
What are PFAS used for?
PFAS are found in many consumer goods, from microwave popcorn bags to water-resistant clothing. They’re also found in many industrial products, such as firefighting foams. PFAS are shown to be resistant to heat, oil, grease, and water, making them difficult to remove from the environment. Because of the stability of PFAS, they have been used in many applications/products since they were first produced in the 1940s including adhesives; cosmetics; cleaning products; water, stain, and oil-repellent coatings for fabric and paper; and specialized chemical applications such as aqueous film forming foam (aka firefighting foams).
Firefighting Foams: When PFAS are mixed with water, the foam creates a film that deprives flames of oxygen.
Where do PFAS end up?
When we manufacture, use, and throw away products using PFAS, the chemicals end up in our environment — our soil, our water, and ultimately, our bodies.
PFAS and us
There’s no denying PFAS are useful and PFAS research is still very limited. New information is constantly becoming available and Government agencies across the globe are working to better understand how PFAS behave, both in the environment and in the food chain. While PFAS concentrations are not yet broadly regulated nationally in North America, federal guidelines exist in both Canada and the US, and different states have moved to adopt their own, more conservative concentration levels.
For more information
Stantec's environmental scientists and water and wastewater treatment experts are industry leaders in PFAS. We assess PFAS distribution in the environment, understand the risks, design potable water and wastewater solutions, and aid in mitigating future impacts. This holistic approach to these emerging contaminants is of paramount importance for the effective management of exposure, risks, and liabilities.
Explore Stantec’s PFAS expertise
Conventional water treatment processes demonstrate limited removal of PFAS in drinking water supplies.
Conventional treatment of wastewater and landfill leachate does not completely break down PFAS, leading to potential groundwater and surface water contamination.
Some firefighting foams used at airports, military bases, and training sites can cause PFAS to migrate through soil into surface and groundwater.
Landfills with contaminated household waste may lead to PFAS seeping into groundwater or entering surface water.
PFAS can enter the air, surface water, and groundwater through industrial discharges.
Nutrient-rich materials that persist after wastewater treatment are sometimes used as fertilizer – remaining PFAS can accumulate in the soil and leach into groundwater.
Understanding the true scale and impact of PFAS contamination
We know that managing a complex challenge like PFAS in our environment requires a thoughtful, multi-faceted approach. To learn more about our experience, knowledge, and team, visit our PFAS service page.
Staying abreast of and informing government regulations
Researching and implementing ever-evolving remediation methods
What we do know is that PFAS are found in the environment in groundwater, surface water, soil, and sediment – and that means PFAS are also being found in the food chain, including in people and in animals such as fish and polar bears. For people, exposure to PFAS is mainly through consumption of drinking water.
For more information