PFAS has ubiquity and diversity but needs help with concentration. What does that mean?

Many business discussions and technical discussions we’ve had about PFAS seem to be driven by three main themes: ubiquity, diversity, and concentration. Understanding the future of these artificial chemicals, formally known as Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances and used in products including lipstick and non-stick cookware (and as we’ll see, ski wax), depends on understanding these three themes. The goal is to break these problematic materials into their constituent atoms or harmless molecules.

1. Ubiquity: PFAS is everywhere

The first point is ubiquity – it’s getting harder and harder to find a place on this planet where PFAS isn’t present.

An article in The Guardian cites research by the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and the University of Graz in Austria, which found that 14 different types of PFAS chemicals, which are commonly used in ski wax, were found in soils at skiing spots in the Austrian Alps at levels far higher than in areas not normally used for skiing.

The report found that the chemicals in the wax were left behind long after the ski season was over. And the PFAS doesn’t all stay on the slopes – some finds its way into the meltwater, which flows into streams, lakes and rivers.

That’s an example of the first theme, “ubiquity.”

As we’ve pointed out, PFAS is amazingly useful. It doesn’t just help people ski faster. is likely in the degreasers used to maintain the chair lifts and gondolas, it helps their lunchtime stir-fry slide off the non-stick cookware used in the kitchen, and it’s likely in their lip balm. If they’re like 95% of people, it’s in their bloodstream too.

There’s so much PFAS in the environment, that it’s hard for environmental scientists to distinguish this “background” PFAS from what might be attributed to a specific contaminated site.

Implication: Because it’s so widely spread, PFAS can be difficult to treat. Any technical solution to the need to break up PFAS molecules will need to be cost-effective and work with low capital expenditure (CapX) and low operating expenditure (OpX). Onvector’s technology has been designed with low CapX and OpX in mind — read on and you’ll find out about our proposed solution to the cost issue.

2. Diversity: many, many different kinds

The kinds of PFAS used for ski wax, degreasers, cookware, and lip balm – plus many more products – all serve different purposes and are designed in different ways. The PFAS used in firefighting foam, for example, needs to stand up to the high temperatures of a gasoline fire without breaking down.

There’s no accurate count of the number of types of PFAS, but it’s in the thousands. The US-EPA currently requires monitoring of 40 of those types. However, that list is expected to expand. So even if your organization doesn’t use any of these particularly problematic types of PFAS, it’s far from certain that it won’t be out of compliance if the EPA changes its policies.

Implication: Because of the prospect of change to regulations, It’s important to find PFAS-busting solutions that are “future-proof” – that are able to break up a wide range of formulations of these “forever chemicals.” And, the system for destroying PFAS must be broad-spectrum so it can deal with the wide range of past, present and future PFAS varieties – and Onvector delivers when it comes to broad-spectrum applications.

3. Concentration: a product of ubiquity and diversity

If you put those two factors together – the fact that PFAS is pretty much everywhere, and there are a lot of different formulations for PFAS – it becomes a low-concentration problem. There are so many kinds of PFAS that any one of them will likely be present at only low concentrations.

There are some hotspots such as firefighting practice areas, the soil on the sites of large fires, and the sites of accidental or deliberate PFAS dumps. But in general, PFAS is found in highly dilute form. Landfill leachate, for example, is almost entirely just water – but it’s that “almost” that provides the problem. It’s the same with most PFAS-impacted groundwater, or municipal sewage effluent. It’s dilute.

We’re talking not just parts per million or parts per billion, but parts per trillion. It’s amazing, in a way, that we have technology able to measure chemicals like PFAS at the PPT range. But partly because we’re now able to measure at PPT levels, it’s becoming required to do that – and then remediate those concentrations as well.

Working at low concentrations is one of the biggest challenges in dealing with PFAS.

Implication: It’s becoming widely accepted that dealing with PFAS is a two-stage problem. One stage takes a dilute PFAS-bearing stream of water such as landfill leachate, and concentrates it. This means that contaminants end up in one effluent stream so less liquid needs to be processed to destroy the PFAS in it, and pure or almost-pure water flows into the other stream. We’ve previously discussed technologies like Reverse Osmosis that can help deal with the low-concentration aspect of the PFAS puzzle. Onvector’s technology, being low-cost and its ability to use widely-available components, can be applied in a way that’s cost-effective even at relatively low concentrations of contaminants.

Plasma vortex: a technology that meets those 3 challenges

So, what does a solution to PFAS need to look like? It must be:

Low cost for the equipment – given the huge scale of the problem, the technology to deal with it must be affordable to buy, with low capital expenditure (CapX). It’s not a stretch to think that PFAS treatment technology must be available at industrial scale but also at a consumer level. It needs to be something you can buy at Home Depot and similar stores.

Low cost and easy to operate – PFAS-breaking solutions need to be low cost to operate (OpX), and must not involve extensive training or professional qualifications.

Broad spectrum – able to destroy a wide range of PFAS types, including those not currently being regulated, or perhaps even developed yet.

At Onvector, we’ve developed a solution that’s low in CapX and OpX, and that destroys all PFAS varieties. Our plasma vortex technology uses low-cost and readily available components. Please reach out to learn more about this exciting opportunity to make sure that “forever chemicals” don’t stay that way.

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