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Time to Dust Off Your Chemistry Books... and Prepare for an Explosion of Jobs in PFAS Management

December 4, 2023

Career development opportunities are growing for solid waste professionals with expertise and experience in addressing the issue of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). As societal concern over PFAS grows and stringent regulations are developed by the federal and state governments, solid waste management systems, including landfills, recycling facilities, waste-to-energy systems, and composting plants, are all likely to be affected. As a result, it is imperative for today’s solid waste planners and engineers to become educated on the treatment options that are available for the removal and destruction of these forever chemicals. 

“The future is bright for today’s solid waste professionals, especially those with expertise and experience with addressing the issue of PFAS,” reports Jeremy O’Brien, Director of SWANA’s Applied Research Foundation. “Concern over the public health impacts of PFAS is growing throughout communities in North America and around the world. As a result, there is an urgent and increasing need for solid waste professionals that have experience and expertise in this area,” he added.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in industrial processes and consumer products throughout the world since the 1950s. Due to their unique capabilities to repel both water and oil, PFAS are used as fluorinated surfactants in fire-fighting foams, paints, household/kitchenware items, product packaging, and fabrics. PFAS chemicals are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their strong chemical bonds. PFAS do not occur naturally; are widespread in the environment; and are found in humans, wildlife, and fish all over the world.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and state governments are currently developing regulatory standards for PFAS in the environment. PFAS are found in many discarded items and products that are commonly disposed in solid waste landfills including textiles, carpets, mattresses, food wrapping, upholstery, and clothing. As a result, PFAS is contained in the leachate that is discharged from these landfills. Currently, about 40% of landfill leachate is treated in publicly owned wastewater treatment plants that are under increasing pressure to reduce the PFAS contained in their effluents. As a result, these treatment plants are refusing to treat landfill leachate any longer, which is putting pressure on landfills to implement their own leachate treatment systems on site. PFAS has also been found in recycled materials and compost produced from food and yard waste.  

Download the EPA’s PFAS Strategic Roadmap, which lays out EPA’s whole-of-agency approach to addressing PFAS, and access valuable PFAS research that can help you prepare for this career growth opportunity.

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