Read the full article by Marina Schauffler (Environmental Health News)

“As states work to limit the use of PFAS, one path for their spread is often overlooked: incineration of consumer waste, such as clothing, textiles, food packaging, paints, and electronics.

Regulatory agencies are paying some attention to the PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) waste stream, such as contaminated leachate from landfills. However, about 12% of the U.S. waste stream goes to the country’s 75 aging municipal solid waste incinerators, with minimal research on likely byproducts of burning PFAS-tainted trash.

Now ‘PFAS in air emissions and incineration are becoming more of a focus,’ Lydia Jahl, a science and policy associate for the Green Science Policy Institute, told EHN.

Ingesting contaminated water and food pose the highest known risk for PFAS exposure, which is linked to multiple negative health outcomes including some cancers, reproductive problems, and birth defects. Airborne emissions from incinerators could be spreading PFAS significant distances, researchers warn, increasing the risk of contaminated water and soil downwind of facilities.

Research in Europe suggests waste incinerators are contributing to plumes of airborne PFAS pollution, but U.S. regulators are not yet tracking this threat.

PFAS resist thermal degradation

Municipal waste incinerators only report hazardous air pollutants–like dioxin, mercury, and lead–to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) every three years, and PFAS compounds are not yet listed in this category. Some PFAS were recently added to the agency’s Toxic Release Inventory, which mandates annual reporting of how toxic compounds are managed, but researchers have noted that the initial PFAS reporting likely underestimates airborne emissions.

Dubbed ‘forever chemicals,’ PFAS are notoriously long-lived due to strong carbon-fluorine bonds. EPA’s research suggests that these ‘chemicals are not really broken down at normal incinerator temperatures,’ Tim Schroeder, a geologist at Bennington College in Vermont who has studied the movement of PFAS through local ecosystems, told EHN.

‘Much is currently unknown’ about how PFAS compounds behave during incineration, a spokesperson for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development wrote in an email to EHN, explaining that PFAS molecules at lower temperatures may not break apart or may decompose partially and recombine to form new PFAS.”…