Microbes show promise in PFAS mitigation efforts, study shows

Microbes Show Promise In Pfas Mitigation Efforts, Study Shows


MADISON, Wis. — Efforts to rid contaminated waterways of PFAS — known more commonly as “forever chemicals” — may have an unlikely new ally: microbes that break down the long-lasting chemicals within the soil.

Results from the pilot program designed to remove the chemicals from a well at the Dane County Regional Airport showed that a specialized three-step process had an average removal rate of 97% throughout the course of the controlled nine-month study.

The process used a “bio-absorbent ‘sponge,’ microbes that break down complex chemicals in soil, and electrodes to generate oxygen supply” to ultimately reduce the chemicals’ abundance. According to the study results, the strategy is expected to have continued success in removing PFAS from the site over time.

“We’re encouraged by the early results of the program and looking forward to expanding it and continuing our dedication to this effort,” airport director Kim Jones said. “Airports across the United States are all seeking solutions to combat this issue, and DCRA is proud to be on the leading edge of this innovative and promising technology.”

Officials with the DCRA and DMA partnered with Verona-based ORIN Technologies and Canadian company Fixed Earth Innovations for the program. ORIN Technologies and Fixed Earth Innovations have since created a joint venture called Onur Solutions to explore further developments in the remediation process.

Staff with the DCRA and the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs launched the PFAS mitigation program in May 2020 after an earlier study conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources determined firefighting foam — which is known to contain PFAS chemicals — was responsible for contaminating surface waters on airport property.

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In the years since the compounds were found in high abundance at the airport, DNR officials have issued guidance advising that all water systems be tested for the chemicals.

Earlier this year, Dane County filed a lawsuit against the makers of the firefighting foam that caused the contamination at the airport.

While health risks caused by PFAS can vary, the chemicals are known to break down extremely slowly, which means they can build up to dangerous levels in people, animals and the environment over time, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Various types of PFAS chemicals have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s. Thousands of varieties exist, though Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) are among the most commonly used; both were found in the affected area contaminated by firefighting foam used at DCRA.