Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a large family of organic compounds, including more than 4,000 synthetic fluorinated organic chemicals used since the 1940s. PFAS have unique surfactant properties that make them repel both water and oil. Because of these properties, they have been used extensively in firefighting foams, surface coatings, and protectant formulations for consumer products, including paper and cardboard packaging products, carpets, leather products and clothing, construction materials, and nonstick coatings (ITRC, 2020). Manufacturers of these items often discharge to Water Resource Recovery Facilities (WRRFs). Landfill leachate discharge and household sewage are also common sources of PFAS in WRRF influent. Conventional WRRFs have proven to be relatively ineffective in removal of PFAS and discharge from WRRF is considered a major source of PFAS in the environment (Ahrens 2011, Chen et al., 2018). There is mounting evidence that continued exposure above specific levels of certain PFAS may lead to adverse health effects (USEPA 2016a, 2016b, ATSDR 2018a). PFAS concentrations in wastewater and sludge or biosolids are mass loading based. Long chain PFAS compounds discharged into WRRFs partition to the solids and end up in the resulting sludge or biosolids. The presence of PFAS in WRRF biosolids has raised a concern in the recent years for beneficial land application programs as PFAS could mobilize in soil, leach into run-off, infiltrate into groundwater or be taken up by biota (Lindstrom et al. 2011, Rich et al. 2015, Sepulvado et al. 2011). Within the PFAS family of compounds, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are the two most common compounds and are a focus of Federal and State drinking water and environmental regulations. These compounds were commonly used in the manufacture of aqueous film forming foams (AFFF) for fighting aircraft fuel fires and other industrial and commercial products. In February 2019, the US EPA developed an action plan to limit human exposure to potentially harmful levels of PFAS in the environment. The short-term action plan includes testing for measurable PFAS and PFAS precursors in biosolids. The action plan was updated in February 2020 indicating that EPA is developing a risk assessment to better understand the potential public health and ecological risks associated specifically with PFOA and PFOS in land-applied biosolids. With mounting concern about the presence of PFAS in biosolids and the lack of specific guidance from the US EPA regarding the risks of these compounds within biosolids, some states have begun their own evaluations on this topic with suggested concentration limits of PFAS in biosolids used for land application. However, state regulatory agencies do not have a consistent approach to managing PFAS in biosolids. These concerns coupled with lack of consistent guidelines from the US EPA and state regulators has caused utilities to consider alternatives to eliminate the presence of PFAS in biosolids to minimize their risk exposure to potential future regulatory standards. As a result, technologies which can effectively destroy PFAS in biosolids based products are being investigated. One such technology is pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the conversion or cracking of biomass or biosolids at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. As most organics are thermally unstable, they can be split in a pyrolysis process by a combination of thermal cracking and condensation reactions into gaseous (pyrogas), liquid (bio-oil), and solid (biochar) fractions. With limited research available on the ability of pyrolysis to eliminate PFAS from biosolids and the fate of PFAS in the resulting effluents (solids, liquid, and air), there is a need to provide actual data for engineers and planners to evaluate as to the actual performance of the pyrolysis process with respect to PFAS reduction and fate. Jacobs and CharTech Solutions (CharTech) recently partnered to investigate the application of CharTech's High Temperature Pyrolysis Technology for biosolids management, and its efficacy in eliminating PFAS from the solid fraction. In addition, the transformation or elimination of PFAS compounds by measuring concentrations in the resultant bio-oil and pyrogas produced from the pyrolysis process were evaluated. This is one of the first analyses done using dried biosolids which captured PFAS data from the all output matrices including the resultant char, bio-oil and pyrogas fractions resulting from the pyrolysis of biosolids. Bench scale testing was performed in a continuously fed pyrolysis unit to compare the PFAS removal performance at 500 °C and 700 °C pyrolysis temperatures. Dried biosolids tested in the bench scale test were derived from un-stabilized waste activated sludge produced from two WRRFs operated by Jacobs. The solids were previously dewatered with belt filter presses to approximately 20 percent solids and subsequently dried in a batch thermal dryer fired with natural gas to evaporate water, resulting in a biosolids product that was approximately 93 percent solids. The dried biosolids material previously met Class A Exceptional Quality biosolids product status by achieving all pathogen and vector-attraction reduction requirements, as well as meeting the concentration limits of heavy metals according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 503 Rule. Twenty eight of the most commonly measured PFAS compounds were analyzed in the feed biosolids, biochar, bio-oil and 31 PFAS compounds were analyzed in the pyrogas. Only six PFAS compounds (10:2 Fluorotelomer sulfonic acid, PFOS, N-Et PFO sulfonamidoacetic acid, N-Me PFO sulfonamidoacetic acid, Perfluorohexanoic acid, and Perfluoroundecanoic acid) were measured above the detection limits in the feed biosolids. Three PFAS compounds were detected in the biochar at the 500 °C pyrolysis temperature (Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid, Perfluorohexanoic acid, Perfluorooctanoic acid), all at less than 0.5 ppb (dry weight). No PFAS compounds were detected in biochar at the 700 °C pyrolysis temperature. PFOS was measured at 26.6 ppb in the feed biosolids but not detected in the biochar, bio-oil or pyrogas at either pyrolysis temperature. Although not detected in the dried biosolids, PFOA was detected at very low concentrations in biochar and pyrogas indicating a lack of complete destruction and/or transformation of precursor compounds during pyrolysis. Higher concentration of Perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA) in pyrogas at 500 °C compared to 700 °C was observed, suggesting greater destruction of PFHxA at a higher temperature. To better understand the PFAS fate through the pyrolysis process, mass balance analysis on biochar, bio-oil and pyrogas streams were conducted and removals of PFAS were estimated. The result of mass balance analysis indicated a total measured PFAS mass removal of 84.4% and 95.6% for 500 °C and 700 °C, respectively for all the PFAS tested in this study. This paper will describe in detail the testing apparatus and procedures used and provide a full description of the results measured. The information will be useful for engineers, planners, scientists, utilities, regulators and others interested in the evaluation of pyrolysis as a potential biosolids management alternative to minimize PFAS in biosolids.
The following conference paper was presented at Residuals and Biosolids 2021: A Virtual Event, May 11-13, 2021.
Author(s)T. Williams1; S. Grieco2; B. Bani3; A. Friedenthal4; A. White5
Author affiliation(s)Jacobs 1; Jacobs 2; Jacobs 3; Char Technologies 4; CharTech Solutions 5;
SourceProceedings of the Water Environment Federation
Document typeConference Paper
Print publication date May, 2021
Volume / Issue
Content sourceResiduals and Biosolids Conference