Originally published in the Environmental Business Journal (EBJ), Vol. XXXVI, Numbers 9/10, 2023, and available to download below.
The article below references the "Evaluation of Current Alternatives and Estimated Cost Curves for PFAS Removal and Destruction from Municipal Wastewater, Biosolids, Landfill Leachate, and Compost Contact Water" study commissioned by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
Barr Engineering Co. provides engineering and environmental consulting services to clients across the Midwest, throughout the Americas, and around the world with offices in eight states and Canada. Barr has been employee-owned since 1966 and trace our origins to the early 1900s. Barr’s 1,000+ engineers, scientists, and technical specialists help clients develop, manage, and restore natural resources in industries such as power, refining, mining, and manufacturing as well as attorneys, government agencies, and natural-resource-management organizations. Project sites range from iron-ore mines in South America to wind-power farms in South Dakota, from manufacturing facilities in California to oil-sands fields in western Canada.
Don Richard, vice president and senior civil engineer, Barr Engineering Co., has three decades of experience focused on treating industrial wastewater and groundwater contaminated by a wide variety of substances. He has managed numerous soil, sediment, and groundwater investigation and remediation projects to enhance and restore natural environments and promote redevelopment. In addition, he has directed several projects involving petroleum-release response actions; served as a senior technical resource in evaluating, pilot-testing, designing, and installing treatment technologies at contaminated sites; and managed the investigation and remediation of contaminated sediments in lakes, rivers, and wetlands.
EBJ: How did you hear about this proposed research project and how did the firm get involved and what qualifications did you and the firm bring to bear to conduct and support this research and production of the report?
Don Richard: Barr Engineering Co. has a long record of working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on complex issues related to specific compounds in the environment, including mercury, phosphorus, sulfate, and now PFAS. We have also worked with several clients to develop and implement grants using Minnesota’s Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) grant program, so we were familiar with this grant process. Based on our experience, we were alerted to the MPCA’s upcoming request for professional services for this project. When developing our proposal, we were also proactive in seeking partners that could expand the qualifications of our team; for example, we engaged Hazen and Sawyer as a subconsultant based on their national experience with managing wastewater biosolids.
EBJ: How did the collaboration go with the state and the project partners and what were the most challenging aspects of the research and project completion?
Richard: One of the most challenging aspects of projects related to new chemicals with environmental concerns is the volume of current publications to review and assimilate. The environmental industry is very large, and many players—from researchers to equipment suppliers—are interested in developing new tools to better address these new challenges. Fortunately, Barr has a very large network, and we have a long history of working collaboratively with both public and private clients, consulting partners like Hazen, and a wide array of technology vendors.
EBJ: MPCA responses are possibly motivated by not wanting wastewater treatment plants to shoulder more than their share of the PFAS burden. Do you believe other social or political or economic issues will come into play related to the ultimate social cost of PFAS?
Richard: The cost estimates we developed for this work represent the straightforward application of costs from experience with existing technologies that are commercially available at this time for the treatment of PFAS.
EBJ: How many projects and what kind of projects has your firm been involved with with PFAS?
Richard: Barr has over 20 years of experience working with PFAS issues in air, soil, water, and sediments for a wide range of public and private clients throughout North America and Europe. We help clients assess the fate and transport of PFAS; evaluate, permit, and design PFAS treatment and disposal options; sample and characterize wastes; and identify and reduce sources. We have designed numerous water treatment systems for industrial wastewater in various industries, from emergency response systems to public drinking water.
EBJ: Do you have any expectation that the proverbial silver bullet technology will emerge or do you think engineered solutions and multiple approaches will be the vast majority of treatment systems and remedial approaches?
Richard: The current state of practice for treatment of PFAS in water and wastewater is to use conventional technologies, such as adsorption to granular activated carbon (GAC) or ion exchange (IX), followed by destruction using incineration. These are general treatment tools. They were developed decades ago for different applications, and they are used now for PFAS treatment because they are industry standards. It is reasonable to assume that, by focusing on the unique chemical characteristics of PFAS, new technologies can be developed that would specifically target removal and destruction of PFAS. However, given the broad spectrum of chemical characteristics within the PFAS family, with potentially thousands of different individual chemicals, it is likely that different approaches may be necessary for different groups of PFAS, such as long-chain or short-chain PFAS.
"It is reasonable to assume that, by focusing on the unique chemical characteristics of PFAS, new technologies can be developed that would specifically target removal and destruction of PFAS."
EBJ: Some view the PFAS market as treatment of drinking water systems then source remediation and then these downstream issues like wastewater plants and landfills. Do you have an opinion or is that unrelated to the technology cost focus of your research?
Richard: The evaluation of technologies and the costs developed during this project provide a benchmark for comparison of PFAS treatment at wastewater facilities to other potential approaches. This work did not explicitly develop costs for other approaches such as drinking water treatment, source remediation, or prevention; however, using methods similar to those developed for this study, it should be possible to develop similar costs for comparison of alternative approaches.
EBJ: How did you get involved in the environmental industry in the first place or what were some of your original inspirations to develop your career to the subject matter you have?
Richard: Barr was incorporated by Doug Barr in 1966 with a primary focus on water resources for a wide variety of public and private clients. Over the years, the management of water resources has evolved from addressing questions related to quantity to include developing solutions to address the impact of human activities on water quality for multiple sources of water, including surface and groundwater. Al Gebhard, another former president of Barr, was one of the pioneers of addressing issues related to groundwater quality in Minnesota in the late 1970s. From this early work, Barr’s experience has expanded to address a wide array of water-related issues—because our scientists and engineers listen to our clients and develop innovative solutions to meet their needs. We develop solutions for complex water and wastewater issues, to benefit both our clients and the communities where we live.
Contact us for more information about Barr’s PFAS work.