Read the full article by Marina Schauffler (The Maine Monitor)
“Widespread contamination from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) ‘has the potential to impose an unsustainable burden on state and private resources,’ the Maine PFAS Task Force wrote three years ago. The weight of that burden from widely dispersed toxic chemicals is now becoming clear in multiplying expenses and costs that defy calculation.
Governmental and utility funds committed to date for early-stage PFAS research and remediation in Maine are estimated to exceed $200 million, according to documents reviewed and inquiries made by The Maine Monitor. Those expenditures represent a small portion of the full economic, ecological and societal impacts (including medical expenses, given the many harmful health effects linked to these industrial chemicals).
Maine has not undertaken a statewide assessment of PFAS costs incurred to date or anticipated. A full accounting across all levels of government and economic sectors could illuminate what long-term impacts PFAS will have on government budgets and taxpayers, and might support legal efforts to recover damages.
While a few other states have detailed PFAS plans, none appears to have done a comprehensive accounting of related expenses, several experts confirmed. Water treatment costs alone are proving challenging to forecast in settings like Michigan, where by 2020 potential costs totaled nearly $1.5 billion, and Minnesota, which was awarded an $850 million settlement for water remediation in the Twin Cities area that may cost up to $1.2 billion.
Rapidly evolving PFAS research complicates cost-forecasting for water testing, treatment technologies and healthcare. Shifting state and federal regulations generate unanticipated expenses in drinking water sampling and filtration, product testing, and treatment of wastewater and landfill leachate.
An $800,000 research pilot program aimed at getting wastewater at the Anson-Madison Sanitary District to meet the state’s drinking water standard faced additional design challenges when that standard shifted markedly lower. ‘We are still committed and confident in developing a system’ to meet the new standard, district superintendent Dale Clark noted, adding that it’s too early to say whether the $8.5 million in grants and $1.5 million in loans raised to date will cover the full-scale system.
Cost estimates for removing PFAS from leachate at Maine’s two state-owned landfills are not due to the Legislature until January, but a consulting study at Vermont’s only operating landfill, owned by Casella Waste Systems, Inc., estimated PFAS treatment costs over 20 years in the range of $32 million to $394 million.
Unforeseen and unpredictable costs
A new law that requires community water systems, schools and day care centers to report PFAS water-testing results to the state has prompted expenditures for follow-up testing and filtration at numerous sites. Many of those costs have been reimbursed by the Maine Drinking Water Program.
Costs to install smaller filtration systems often run less than $40,000, but there are notable exceptions. Following high PFAS levels in well water, the Houlton Mobile Home Park is working to establish a public water connection reported to cost more than $4 million.
Several larger water districts anticipate PFAS treatment costs on the order of $5-10 million, with research still underway. ‘Forecasting pricing now is impossible, not difficult,’ said Brian Tarbuck, general manager of the Greater Augusta Utility District, given that treatment methods are rapidly evolving and demand for filtration systems is skyrocketing, driving up costs and causing delays on top of existing supply-chain challenges.
Nor can districts budget for the operations and maintenance of the new systems, Tarbuck added, given uncertainty about how long filters will perform and what their disposal costs may be. (Research is underway at the University of Maine on means to destroy PFAS in used filters, but in the short term most filters will go to landfills, contributing to PFAS contamination concerns and costs for leachate treatment there.)
Systems that find PFAS during sampling must test water more frequently, an ongoing expense that drives up operating costs. One district anticipates spending $36,000 annually just on routine water testing for PFAS.
‘For the state of Maine, Bluefield (a Boston-based market research firm) forecasts $42.5 million in PFAS drinking water remediation to be spent over the 2022-2030 forecast period,’ noted Lauren Balsamo, an analyst at the company, reflecting the fact that Maine is ‘one of the most pro-active states in terms of testing and implementing regulatory policies. By getting out ahead of impending federal PFAS regulations, states like Maine can avoid fines and penalties later on, which can lead to overall cost savings.’