October 20, 2020

Waste Dive takes in-depth look at the costly crisis posed by disposing toxic “forever” PFAS chemicals

Few issues within the waste and recycling industry receive as much attention as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), sometimes called forever chemicals because they do not break down in the environment. As questions mount over how to properly dispose of the toxic substances, skyrocketing costs and who will pay them are top of mind for large and small waste operators, manufacturers, and government agencies.

Studies have found PFAS appear in the blood of 99% of humans and in far-flung parts of the world, including in Arctic seawater. They have also been linked to cancer, developmental effects, and other severe health issues by experts including the U.S. EPA. Two PFAS, PFOA and PFOS, have been phased out of production in the United States.

Waste Dive took a close look at how PFAS impact the landfill, organics, and incineration sectors, drawing on dozens of interviews, along with federal financial filings, lobbying disclosures, and documents obtained via public records requests in Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

More than seven months of reporting found some municipalities have seen their budgets for processing landfill liquids known as leachate triple, while major public companies named PFAS as a potential source of future expenses. In addition to costs, PFAS incineration also has broader environmental justice implications, as incinerators are often near low-income communities of color, who have expressed concern about potential health risks.

Public records show outcry around PFAS in leachate has spurred numerous conversations among state regulators. PFAS in compost and biosolids have also led to extensive lobbying and product changes within the organics sector, as some worry a crackdown could hinder efforts to combat climate change.

Waste Dives three-part series explores each of these areas and what they mean for the industry. See each story at the link below:

Part 1 - Toxic PFAS waste that lasts forever poses financial, logistical challenges for landfills

Part 2 - Burning forever chemicals emerges as industry flash point

Part 3 - We can never get to zero: Organics recyclers face hard choices in responding to PFAS contamination

In addition to this series, our ongoing coverage will continue to address lingering questions around safe disposal solutions, accountability, and the impact of upcoming elections.

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