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Illinois Bans Burning of PFAS

Posted on 6/14/2022 by Lauren Scott

On June 8, 2022, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker signed a bill prohibiting the incineration of any perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), including fire-fighting foams, effective immediately. Since the 1940s, PFAS have been used in a wide range of consumer products and industrial processes for its waterproofing and oil-resistant properties. This has resulted in PFAS contaminating the air, water, and soil.

This law allows exemptions for incineration via thermal oxidizer when operated as a pollution control device or a resource recovery device at a facility using PFAS, as well as some exemptions for medical waste incinerators and landfills.

While PFAS have largely been phased out of production in the US, this class of 5,000-plus man-made substances is not easily broken down in the environment, hence the nickname “forever chemicals.” PFAS have also been linked to a wide range of health defects, such as immune system deficiencies, cancer, birth defects, and liver and kidney toxicity.

Because PFAS cannot be easily broken down, experts have long debated the safest and most effective way to dispose of PFAS. While incineration has shown some promise, the burning process may cause the substances to break down into other dangerous compounds and may inadvertently release additional greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).

A similar bill was vetoed by Governor Pritzker last year, citing concerns that the bill’s definition of “incineration” was too broad, and would unintentionally restrict companies from using alternative methods for PFAS disposal, such as thermal oxidation.

New York passed a similar law in 2020 prohibiting the burning of PFAS-containing aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) in certain cities. Researchers found that PFAS incineration at a plant in Cohoes, NY contributed to soil and surface water contamination in the surrounding areas.

EPA Plans Two RCRA Hazardous Waste Rules for PFAS

US EPA plans to propose two RCRA hazardous waste rules to address the environmental impacts of PFAS and facilitate cleanup of sites contaminated with these so-called forever chemicals.

The two forthcoming rules are EPA’s response to New Mexico’s governor, who petitioned the Agency to regulate PFAS chemicals as hazardous waste under RCRA, individually or as a group. The planned proposals respond to the petition and give us insight about how EPA will treat PFAS chemicals under the RCRA hazardous waste regulations in the future. 

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Tags: chemical management, Clean Air Act, EPA, PFAS

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