PFAS and Emerging Contaminants


TRC’s Center of Research and Expertise (CORE) is a multidisciplinary team of experts whose mission is to promote technical excellence, work at the forefront of emerging challenges and solutions, and contribute to the technical advancement of our professional, client, and academic communities. 

Our national PFAS Team, cultivated through the CORE, offers site characterization, forensic and risk assessment, compliance strategies, and treatment solutions for PFAS and other emerging contaminants. We work across geographies and disciplines to understand, research, and advance the body of technical knowledge to strategically manage emerging issues around these contaminants. 

What are PFAS?

Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), as defined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, are “… a diverse group of compounds resistant to heat, water, and oil.” They comprise a complex family of over 3,000 manmade fluorinated organic chemicals. 

Since the 1950s, their widespread usage was found within the aerospace, automotive, building and construction, chemical processing, metal plating, semiconductor, and textile industries. PFAS have been commonly used in consumer products such as carpets, apparel, food paper wrappings, and firefighting foams.

Why PFAS are Emerging Contaminants

PFAS have been detected at low levels within remote and urban environments, in drinking water, in sediment, soil, surface water, and groundwater, and in blood samples of the general U.S. population and abroad. 

Specific PFAS have been linked to adverse health effects in animal studies and in people.  PFAS are persistent and highly resistant to degradation in the environment. The combination of widespread presence, potential health effects even at low concentrations, and persistence, has brought these contaminants to the forefront.

Currently, there are limited state-specific regulations and no federal drinking water or cleanup standards in place. It was only in 2012 that the USEPA first required certain public drinking water suppliers to test for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) under its Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3). Monitoring requirements and standards have been changing regularly, and understanding current conditions and requirements is imperative prior to and throughout PFAS work.

The Challenges Behind Addressing PFAS

The full scope of PFAS issues remains to be identified. Standards for soil and water are being implemented by individual states, yet PFAS analytical, remediation, and treatment methods are in their infancy. Risk assessments and coherent exposure scenarios are not yet well researched or characterized, with unresolved inconsistencies in risk-related studies.  

PFAS surfactant properties that result in partitioning at the air-water interface create sampling challenges for remediation and monitoring, as well as for measurement of key fate and transport properties (e.g., solubility, sorption, and organic carbon-water partition coefficients).

What makes PFAS more challenging than other contaminants are their omnipresence, persistence, mobility, low reporting limits, low and evolving regulatory criteria, the role of precursors, bioaccumulation potential, and their impact on watersheds. 

Our Solutions and Expertise

For decades, TRC has offered innovative engineering and environmental solutions to a wide range of private and public clients in various sectors.

Thanks in part to the development of our CORE strategic program, we’ve been able to deliver solutions to complex problems that are efficient, sustainable, cost-effective, and aligned with our clients’ business objectives. Our ability to “think like an owner” when crafting site management strategies inspires us to innovate and focus on the end goal, and understand the phases that go into mapping a project’s full lifecycle. We apply this same approach to PFAS’ unique challenges for our clients.

Our CORE members belong to the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC) and actively participated on the ITRC PFAS team in the development of various PFAS fact sheets and a Technical Guidance document. In 2017, we won the ITRC Industry Member of the Year award for the work and leadership we provided on the ITRC PFAS team. Our experts have also worked with the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) to create the Groundwater and PFAS: State of Knowledge and Practice guide.

Our goal is to strategically guide our clients through the challenging process of addressing PFAS contamination and emissions, especially under the prevailing regulatory and technical uncertainties. We provide a range of services to clients in the public, manufacturing, transportation, petrochemical, and other sectors, helping them identify, plan, and manage challenges through all steps of the process.

Research and Development

TRC scientists and engineers are working on PFAS Research & Development independently and partnering with leading analytical labs and/or specialty technology providers. We are looking at various aspects of PFAS, including sorption, fate & transport properties, treatment, PFOS solubility, leachability from sampling materials, stormwater monitoring & treatment approaches/technologies, and air emissions measurement methods. Through this original research, we work at the forefront of PFAS knowledge and innovative solutions to bring to our clients.

Field Sampling and Site Characterization Services

TRC has performed sampling and analysis of various media at airports, metal plating facilities, refineries, industrial and electronics manufacturing sites, and landfills in multiple states. Our site-specific approach, as well as our close working relationships with our laboratory partners, ensures quality data and interpretation, allowing us to focus on what your data means for your site. TRC has experience with the special precautions needed when sampling soil, groundwater, sediment, and surface water for PFAS, and we have established PFAS-specific standard operating procedures for common field activities to ensure representative, unbiased data.

Analytical Data Validation and Interpretation

TRC employs a quality assurance team dedicated to the evaluation, assessment, and validation of analytical data. We have relationships with analytical laboratories capable of performing the specialized analyses associated with PFAS. We have experience with the validation of analytical data generated using the specialized analytical methodology (LC/MS/MS) for many different PFAS isomers. Our staff were also the ITRC PFAS Team’s lead authors on the subject of data evaluation. Understanding PFAS distribution at a site, along with the manufacturing history of PFAS compounds, together provide a powerful tool in assessing sources.

Remediation and Treatment Optimization Services

TRC’s CORE PFAS Team is redefining remediation strategies for PFAS. Our expertise helps clients find cost-effective remediation options by developing feasibility studies that assess site characteristics, contaminant levels, risk, and cleanup goals. Once the PFAS problem is defined at a site, we develop and execute a full strategy, including engineering design, construction support, and operations, monitoring, and maintenance (OM&M) services.

Although granular activated carbon and ion exchange resins are effective at treating PFAS in water, our team is continually evaluating the innovative treatment options for both in-situ and ex-situ approaches.

Wastewater Services

In support of our industrial clients, we are actively engaged in the identification of PFAS sources in their processes and wastewater discharges and helping them with management and elimination of these discharges through source identification and wastewater treatment.

Risk Assessment and Communication Services

TRC is focused on strategic risk-based solutions that address known sources and receptors. Risk assessment of PFAS compounds considers the concentration in environmental media, fate & transport via a conceptual site model, and potential adverse effects to human and ecological receptors.

The USEPA has developed limited carcinogenic and noncarcinogenic toxicity data for use in risk assessment, primarily for PFOA and PFOS. State-specific values are also available. The outcome of risk assessment must also consider guidance or regulatory values, primarily for groundwater and surface water, and document the uncertainties in the risk evaluation to present a balanced argument for consideration of remedial action decisions.

We are also conscious of the importance of communication about PFAS presence and health risk to communities and other stakeholders, and we offer our risk communication expertise at regulatory and public meetings, and in written materials. TRC personnel have been involved with the ITRC PFAS team working on risk assessment, regulatory, and risk communication tools, utilizing our experience in this arena to guide development of useful guidance.

Other Emerging Contaminants

TRC has formed a CORE Emerging Contaminants team that focuses on the identification, tracking, and research of emerging contaminants beyond PFAS. We manage the wide breadth of information on emerging contaminants and issues that are challenging our clients now, or may in the near future.