Research & Report on: Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Building Materials – by Sara Badiali Prepared for: King County, Washington February 2023
There is an overwhelming amount of information on Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and the related family of chemicals. They are present in air, water, and soil and seemingly permanent in the environment. Historically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed new PFAS to enter the market through “low volume exemptions resources” after a review process of only 30 days. As a result there are hundreds of companies creating a variety of PFAS-type chemicals, and thousands of products use these chemicals. We now know they cause a terrible toll on human health.
PFAS are present in almost all modern building materials. These are most certainly being spread throughout the environment and to populations through demolition. There is no study confirming the spread of PFAS though building demolition. But there are tangential studies that make it easy to draw this conclusion, including landfill leche, atmospheric modeling, ground water contamination reports, and the presence of PFAS in the building materials themselves.
The following report is a look at what kinds of information is available after searching for over a month. There are three academic papers included that are not linked, they were personally sent to me by the authors and are not public. The footnotes are directly linked to the source for efficiency. Full citations are included under Works Cited in the original report for King County. I have added notes on some citations to opportunities for infographics that are well designed and informative. I did not include them for purposes of brevity, in an already crowded field.
There is professional interest in studies on PFAS chemicals in building demolition from the resources I contacted. There is ample opportunity for King County to partner and provide the first-ever study into PFAS in building demolition. Contact Information is included in this report. The EPA awarded nearly $750,000 in funding to research PFAS exposure pathways in October 2022. Since the subject is so vast, I think the EPA will do another round of funding.
Basic Literature & Key Points
Building Materials are a source of PFAS and their chemical family through manufacturing, function, to end of life treatment. How much, frequency, and longevity of exposure to the public is just starting to be studied. The manufacturing process can be studied through contamination of local communities measuring air quality, ground, and water pollution. Materials like carpets, furniture and coatings are being studied while in use, by measuring the air quality inside buildings. The end of life of buildings are only currently being looked at as studies of landfill leche from C&D solid waste facilities. These studies are often part of larger research tracking ground water contamination. In the month of researching this report, not one study on building demolition worksite PFAS contamination was apparent. In reaching out to experts from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Green Science Policy Institute and others working in studying PFAS in building materials, not one knew of any reports on building demolition sites. Feedback from these contacts is that it is a worthy subject matter to be studied and that they are interested in having information shared with them.