PFCs - What are they & how do we treat them?

Over the last decade, concerns about exposure to toxic perfluorinated chemicals from contaminated municipal and/or private well water have become an issue at a local, state, and national level.


Even in Altair Equipment's very own Bucks County, PA, PFC exposure is a large concern after tests in 2014 revealed that many of our town's municipal water supplies are contaminated, and have potentially been so for decades.

What are PFCs?

Perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, as they were commonly referred to (with the EPA recently updating the nomenclature to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs) are a toxic group of chemicals including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) & perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) which are a part of a class of man-made, non-naturally occurring chemicals. 


PFCs are used in a variety of different manufacturing and military applications for their stain-resistance, waterproofing, and non-stick properties. PFCs can be found in fire retardants, oil and water repellents, furniture, waterproof clothes, take out containers and non-stick cookware.


While PFOA and PFOS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States (except on a very limited basis for use in some industrial applications), many countries continue to produce PFOA/PFOS containing consumer products that are imported into the United States.


Additionally, because chemicals in the PFC family do not break down when exposed to air, water or sunlight, people have been exposed to PFCs manufactured months or years in the past.

What are the health effects of exposure to PFC chemicals?

Over the last decade, interest in the potential negative health effects of PFC exposure has been growing steadily. Studies looking at PFC exposure animals have linked these chemicals to negative effects on sexual reproduction, liver and kidney function, and the immune system in laboratory animals. The EPA has listed PFCs as a possible human carcinogen. In human studies, PFCs have been linked to increased cholesterol levels, fertility issues in women, low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer (PFOAs), and thyroid hormone disruption (PFOSs).

How does one get exposed to PFAS chemicals?

There are several ways for exposure to PFCs to occur. Some potential reasons for exposure are accidentally swallowing contaminated soil or dust, eating food that was packaged in material that contains PFAS, using consumer products such as non-stick cookware, stain resistant carpeting, or water repellent clothing, and eating fish from water contaminated by PFCs.


The most prevalent route of exposure, however, is through drinking PFC contaminated municipal water or private well water.


Testing for PFCs is being done across the United States as municipalities, private operators and residents on personal wells try to ensure the safety of their drinking water

How is contaminated water be treated?

The traditional method of treatment for PFC chemicals consists of granulated activated carbon (GAC). This treatment technology is widely used and promoted. Many municipalities have turned to activated carbon to address their PFC problem. Activated carbon does come with some drawbacks though.


First, activated carbon operated via adsorption and it is inconsistent with respect to removal of PFCs and is dependent on the type of activated carbon, volume of the carbon and the flowrate through the bed. Ordinarily a bed of activated carbon may start out with PFC levels below detection limits if the flowrate is low enough but within days or weeks the chemicals have broken through. Although the levels are below the EPA limits for drinking water they are still present. Final break through of the chemicals can occur in as little as 67 days in a typical carbon system before the carbon must be replaced.


Naturally mined carbon, such as bituminous can leach materials naturally found in the coal deposits. These contaminants include arsenic and lead,


Activate carbon also removes radioactive materials. While treating water to remove PFCs the carbon is also removing radioactive materials. In a normal drinking water system the level of radioactivity is below any hazardous level. When using activated carbon the radioactivity is concentrated until the carbon itself becomes a hazardous waste and can not be disposed of by incineration or landfill.


Lastly, due to to limited capacity of the carbon the beds must be changed typically every 60-90 days. This service requirement leads to a shutdown and additional manpower that is required by the municipality.

Altair has helped develop a lower cost, cleaner approach

Altair Equipment has developed a more consistent, reliable and cost effective solution for the removal of PFCs without the drawbacks of activated carbon. The Altair approach is full tested and proven in municipal applications. Altair uses a selective resin to reduce the size of the equipment, extend the life and minimize the service disruptions.


Altair's approach allows for 100% more water flow per volume making the bed smaller. Even at this increased flow (i.e., lower contact time). Despite the reduced contact time the performance of Altair's equipment lasts over 10 times that of activated carbon. The equipment maintains "no detectable" PFCs from the start to the final break through.


Altair's equipment cost is lower using its resin approach and the service costs are greatly reduced.  

The choice is low levels or zero. Based on the most recent analysis the cost of Altair's resin approach is $0.32 per 1,000 gallons while activated carbon is $1.31 per 1,000 gallons.

Altair produces quality equipment to ensure a long life

Altair's experience extends beyond the media in the tanks. Altair's tanks and internals are all stainless steel, we don't use plastic. Failure of plastic internals can deposit carbon downstream though the system. Altair's technical staff design the equipment and build all the controls in-house. A complete, turnkey system designed specifically to your application at the most economical price.


Altair Equipment Co. Inc – 335 Constance Drive • Warminster PA, 18974 • (215) 672-9000

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