Lisa Kammer, P.G. – Tackling PFAS with Innovative Technologies and Sustainable Choices

Lisa Kammer, P.G., serves as Weston’s Senior PFAS Market Leader and Emerging Contaminant Community of Practice Leader. She has 17 years’ experience in site investigation, characterization (remedial investigations/feasibility studies), and remediation, Superfund project management, and long-term monitoring programs. Her focus is primarily on chlorinated solvents and emergent and recalcitrant compounds including PFAS and 1,4 dioxane. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of Northern Colorado and a Master of Science in Geology and Geophysics from Boston College.

Lisa is an active member of the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council’s (ITRC’s) PFAS Team and contributor to ITRC’s PFAS Fact Sheets and PFAS Technical and Regulatory Guidance document. As an active member of the Society of American Military Engineers Environmental Community of Interest, she is currently co-developing an Industry-Government Engagement project titled “Targeted Training for Operational Entities.” Lisa has also presented on PFAS for clients and at conferences across the country.

Why are per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) a problem?

PFAS are a problem for precisely the same reasons why they are so commonly used across industrial and consumer applications. PFAS are chemically and thermally stable, man-made compounds that resists degradation even when exposed to some of the most aggressive remedial technologies. It can be used to reduce friction; repel oil, water, soil, and stains; create a barrier to deprive a flammable substance of oxygen; and provide dust suppression. Some PFAS are toxic at relatively low levels; however, we have only just begun to understand the human health and environmental impacts of known PFAS at a fraction of a percent. It is safe to assume PFAS will become significant markers for years to come.

What are some daily activities that could have potential PFAS exposure, and what are the possible health effects of exposure?

We have encounters and, therefore, exposures with PFAS whether we are aware or not. PFAS are found in biosolids for fertilizers, carpeting, clothing, cosmetics, fast food wrappers, pizza boxes, and more. In fact, when trying to find blood samples not containing PFAS, researchers had to go back to samples retained from the Korean War. Even Arctic ice samples have been found to contain PFAS despite there not being any industry in the Arctic.

Our exposures add up over time and can potentially lead to health problems including elevated cholesterol levels, reduced vaccine response in children, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, small decreases in infant birth weights, and increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.

What role does Weston play regarding the PFAS issue?

For 17 years, Weston has served as a trusted advisor and partner for our clients on PFAS contamination by keeping abreast of varying state and (soon to be established) federal regulations and by keeping our solutions versatile to meet client goals. Alongside the EPA and state agencies, we developed the original sampling and analytical protocols for PFAS in soil, groundwater, and biota. Similarly, our Integrated Air Services Team leads the industry in emission stack and air sampling for PFAS. The Team completed early work with a partnering laboratory to develop the sampling and analytical protocols that would become the EPA Other Test Method 45 (OTM-45). Since then, we have continued to provide technical services throughout the project life cycle. Our services include developing a scope to characterize a site, managing large amounts of data, creating 4D visualizations, and designing and implementing sustainable treatment train approaches (i.e., a sequence of treatment technologies). Throughout our delivery of technical excellence, Weston is committed to helping our clients navigate the complexities of stakeholder engagement and risk communication. One of the most effective engagement and communication tools is our customized websites and storyboards for individual projects that are updated in real time. Properly done, risk communication builds the affected community’s trust in the project team, streamlines communications between the client, environmental agency, and health department, and creates more successful outcomes in project execution.

What are some of the innovations Weston is using to manage PFAS in the environment?

Our technical teams are reimagining technologies once used to treat “old” emerging contaminants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in addition to innovating designs for PFAS treatment systems. We constantly strive to make the most sustainable choices for our clients that meet project goals while also protecting human health and the environment. For example, soil washing has been around for a while, but its application is being tested at an Air Force base located in the eastern U.S. where we are using it to desorb PFAS from soil, concentrate the PFAS, and then running that concentrate through a destructive technology. This is the selected approach that works best for the client, but also reduces off-site transportation and disposal costs as well as potential long-term liabilities. At another site, we have modified the existing surface water treatment system to limit biofouling of the treatment train and to avoid algaecide use that would adversely impact the aquatic habitat. Lastly, our engineers have designed an innovative gravity system that uses biologically active filtration for PFAS removal in stormwater. When compared to traditional pressure systems, this system is less labor-intensive, more cost-effective, and sustainable. Stay tuned for the results of this pilot study!

What are the available technologies in addressing PFAS, and how do you expect the technology market to evolve over the next couple years?

The PFAS treatment technologies in use today are the stalwarts of remediation. Demonstrated ex situ treatment for aqueous media includes foam fractionation (PFAS reduction), granular activated carbon, ion exchange resins, and reverse osmosis. Thermal destruction in the vadose zone or ex situ is currently an option for soil. Ongoing research includes everything from plasma reactors, to biodegradation, to hydrothermal alkaline treatment. The latter of the three is likely the most promising for on-site destruction of concentrates. But the most successful remedial strategies in the near future will combine multiple technologies to reduce, concentrate, and destroy.

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Lisa Kammer
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