by Jeffrey Hale, Kleinfelder
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “an ‘emerging contaminant’ is a chemical or material that is characterized by a perceived, potential, or real threat to human health or the environment or by a lack of published health standards. A contaminant may also be ‘emerging’ because a new source or a new pathway to humans has been discovered or a new detection method or treatment technology has been developed (DoD 2011).”1
Emerging contaminants grabbing headlines, prompting litigation, and driving new regulatory standards internationally include per and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) and 1,4-dioxane. PFAS are listed as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) under the Stockholm Convention.2 PFAS do not occur in nature. Rather, they are partially to fully fluorinated, human-made compounds used in a variety of commercial products, such as specialty polymers and firefighting foams due to their thermal resistance and water and oil repellant properties. According to the Australia Department of Environment and Energy, “The release of PFAS into the environment is an emerging concern globally, because the chemicals are highly persistent and have been shown to have adverse impacts on fish and some animals.”3
1,4-dioxane is an emerging groundwater contaminant that is notable for its mobility and persistence in the environment, and its resistance to standard remediation methods. 1,4-dioxane may enter the body via dermal contact, ingestion, and inhalation. It is considered likely to be a carcinogen in humans. 1,4-dioxane has also been used for a variety of commercial and industrial applications, most notably as a solvent stabilizer, and is therefore often found in the presence of chlorinated solvent plumes.
Though PFAS and 1,4-dioxane fit the more classic perception of emerging contaminants—complex or exotic, human-made, organic compounds with emerging knowledge of toxicity and environmental fate—emerging contaminants need not be new, exotic, complex organic compounds. Rather, lack of awareness, limited information, or a new exposure to a well-known substance may constitute an emerging contaminant. Ironically, lead is one of the oldest known hazardous substances, as well as one of the newest emerging contaminants, given the resurgence of its awareness and new or unexpected exposure pathways such as in Flint, Michigan.
Whether new or old, emerging contaminants continue to grab headlines while creating fear and uncertainty. As such, insightful understanding of the issues, clear risk communication, and implementation of prudent measures for management, mitigation, and remediation of emerging contaminants is essential. Kleinfelder’s Emerging Contaminants Team delivers these solutions. From perchlorate a decade ago to perfluorinated alkyl substances today, Kleinfelder continues to be a thought leader in the management of emerging contaminant issues.
1 U.S.EPA, March 2014, Emerging Contaminants – Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), EPA 505-F-14-001
Disclaimer: The information set forth in this communication should not be construed nor relied upon as legal or technical advice and is not intended as a substitute for legal, technical, or regulatory consultation.