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"Forever Chemical" meets its match in West Michigan where North America's first operational PFAS Annihilator Technology resides

 PFAS Annihilator
Patrick Center, WGVU
Surface Active Foam Fractionation system at Heritage-Crystal Clean, City of Wyoming, Michigan

A decades old environmental cleanup dilemma in Michigan and across the nation now has an answer with 4Never's closed-loop PFAS solution.

“It’s overwhelming, but it’s very cool to go from where we were six seven years ago to today.”

“I’m Jim Rosendall and I’m Heritage-Crystal Clean Special Projects Manager.”

“To be able to strip it out of the water, discharge clean water, and destroy the concentrate through the destruction technology and end up with more water, inert salts and carbon dioxide.”

Science. “It is science. It’s beyond my capacity of thinking but it’s very cool.”

And on a massive scale.

“Yes, this facility has the ability to treat between 175,000 and 200,000 gallons a day.”

Tanker trucks hauling 10,000 to 12,000 gallons of per- and polyfluoroalkyl contaminated water – also known as PFAS arrive at Heritage-Crystal Clean’s Wyoming location. It’s one of 11 Crystal Clean Wastewater Treatment Plants located across the country.

We mentioned there are two steps. Step one is capturing and concentrating PFAS. Step two is destroying it with the PFAS Annihilator.

Considering the volume of contamination - and wrapping your mind around the idea of capturing a molecular substance, and not only that, but eliminating it would seem next to impossible. But did we mention science?

“What we developed a four-way partnership to really develop a turnkey solution to managing PFAS contaminated waste streams from cradle to grave.”

Brian Recatto is President and CEO of Heritage-Crystal Clean treating various types of industrial waste at 150 locations in North America and it’s one of the four partnering companies forming the 4NEVER Solution.

“This is a story of first to market with a closed-loop system. First destruction technology and operation. First combined system. First permitted system in North America. It’s exciting to get out of the pilot stage and into operation.”

David Trueba is President and CEO of Revive Environmental. A technology spinout of Columbus-based Battelle Memorial Institute, specializing in scientific solutions. It brought the destruction technology, the PFAS Annihilator, to market.

“Treating PFAS is like looking for the tomato sauce in vegetable soup. You’ve got to understand how much flowrate you’ve got and you’ve got to get rid of the vegetables that might interfere with the processing and destruction of the PFAS. So, what we’ve got to do is do a little bit of pretreatment and then the rest of the materials go into what we call the PFAS Annihilator.”

But before it gets there, as mentioned, the contaminated water must be pretreated. That’s step one involving the other two 4Never partners Surface Active Foam Fractionation technology manufacturer EPOC Enviro and its distributor Allonnia.

Via truck and rail, Heritage-Crystal Clean receives PFAS laden landfill leachate or waste from plating companies or laundry facilities from all points east of the Mississippi River. The PFAS contaminated water is pumped into indoor storage tanks about two-stories tall. From there, Rosendall shows me the Foam Action Fractionation system. The PFAS concentration is drawn into aeration units where foam fractionation technology takes place.

“See the foam coming out the top. As that aerates PFAS molecule will grab onto the air bubbles

For every1,000 gallons of contaminated water, the vacuum system sucks up the bubbles converting it into10 gallons of PFAS prepped for annihilation.

Invented in the 1930’s, man-made per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known as the “forever chemical” because it can last thousands of years in the environment made life easier, but it would later be determined it poses health risks including cancer.

Rosendall recalls, “It was unregulated. All anybody knew is that your eggs wouldn’t stick in the pan anymore. Your feet were dry because they put water repellant on your shoes.”

Unregulated, PFAS waste got dumped. An estimated 7,400 landfills have been receiving PFAS contaminated solids for decades producing what’s known as leachate.

Once that PFAS watery mix is collected, then Foam Fractionation-prepped and concentrated, then, and only then, can it be neutralized.

“This is the heartbeat of the system.”

Rosendall allows me to peek inside a 20-foot CONEX box, similar to a shipping container, is Revive Environmental’s PFAS Annihilator.

“This is a reactor, and these are the heating elements in the pressurizing system to bring it to super-critical state.”

I point out there are three heating elements approximately the size of a casket.

“They do. There’s insulation. The casing on there is because it operates at 3,200 PSI.”

Rosendall explains the extreme heating over 500-degrees Celsius and that 3,200 pounds of force per square inch breaks apart per- and polyfluoroalkyl molecules separating the fluorine bond.

“What comes out of here is water, carbon dioxide, and inert salts. It is clean.”

I ask what is done with and where does it go?

“So, from here it will go into our wastewater system just for a secondary treatment and then gets discharged to the local POTW.”

How quickly can the PFAS Annihilator come to market> David Trueba explains, “We’ve got six systems under production right now. They take about six months to build. Mostly because of material and construction and fabrication. So, we’ve got six systems on order and they’ll be actually being deployed in the fall. And we’re excited about partnering with Brian at other locations to be able to get the technology out on the market.”

PFAS Annihilators at all eleven Crystal Clean Water Treatment sites nationwide. Rosendall tells us many more are needed for addressing the growing PFAS problem.

“There are 52,000-plus sites that have been identified with PFAS contamination in the U.S. They’re adding 10,000 to 12,000 sites per year to that number. So, I don’t know how many will ultimately be out there. We, as Heritage-Crystal Clean, have committed to put 270 of these units in the market and that will be over the next five years.”

David Trueba points out the systems are versatile and portable.

“These systems can be used indoors, outdoors. They were designed to be mobile onsite for a lot of different use cases; AFFF destruction, leachate. So, the boxes were designed in order to be flexible to meet the needs and really be on location to minimize shipping costs.”

Brian Recatto adding, “Our ultimate game plan is to take the Surface Active Foam system to the generating source, whether that be groundwater or leachate, process at the generator’s location, produce the concentrate, use our extensive vac-struck fleet to pick up the concentrate and bring it to one of our plants for destruction in the annihilator system. So, we’re going to have the ability to do either or, whatever’s best for the customer. If they’re close to our location, and you’re not spending a bunch of money and time transporting water, it might make sense to truck it to our wastewater treatment plants and operate the SAFF system there. And or we could take the SAFF system to the generator location and truck smaller quantities of concentrated waste which is ultimately the way we’d like to do…We’re going to offer this up at a per-gallon rate which we think will be something the market will accept and appreciate.”

I ask Rosendall how amazing is this technology?

“Five years ago, I would have never dreamed of something like this. And to be here and be one of the first in North America with the first commercial operation, it’s pretty incredible.”

Patrick joined WGVU Public Media in December, 2008 after eight years of investigative reporting at Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV8 and three years at WYTV News Channel 33 in Youngstown, Ohio. As News and Public Affairs Director, Patrick manages our daily radio news operation and public interest television programming. An award-winning reporter, Patrick has won multiple Michigan Associated Press Best Reporter/Anchor awards and is a three-time Academy of Television Arts & Sciences EMMY Award winner with 14 nominations.