Management of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) RFP

The Environmental Research & Education Foundation (EREF) Board of Directors has identified a high priority research topic in the area of managing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and has issued a request for pre-proposals (RFP) on the topic to support the long-term needs and strategic direction of the solid waste industry.

PFAS are a group of compounds that are man-made and are commonly used in industrial processes and consumer products such as food packaging, fire-fighting foams, metal plating, outdoor gear, popcorn bags, food wrappers, facial moisturizers, mattresses, carpeting and cookware. Despite the widespread use of PFAS in everyday products there are still significant knowledge gaps associated with the management of these compounds.  Although consumer and industrial products have been identified as containing PFAS there have been limited studies that focus on the inventory of the specific types of products that contain PFAS which ultimately end up as waste materials, discharged to wastewater treatment plants or in other potential sinks globally. As regulations are being developed there needs to be sound science to address the many facets related to the management of PFAS-associated wastes and the relative significance of various waste management practices utilized by the solid waste industry in overall human/environmental exposure to PFAS.

For the purposes of this RFP, PFAS can include their associated precursors, transformation products, and byproducts. At a minimum, the focus should be on the most commonly monitored compounds that have standards or guidance values in place or being developed. Examples include, but are not limited to:  perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluoro-octane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), per- and poly-fluoropolyethers (PFPE), perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs), per- and poly-fluorinated carboxylic acids and GenX.

The management of PFAS-associated wastes can be through conventional pathways such as landfilling, recycling, composting, thermal conversion (i.e., incineration) and anaerobic digestion. Within these management pathways, a focus should include, where applicable, liquid (e.g., leachate and gas condensate) and gaseous (e.g., landfill gas, stack gas, biogas) management and emissions. Groundwater quality associated with these management pathways are also applicable within this RFP. Other compounds of emerging concern (CEC) will not be considered (e.g., pharmaceuticals, hormones and endocrine disruptors) and can be submitted in the next RPF being considered on May 1, 2021.

Research Focus Areas
Submissions of scientific research pre-proposals related to the management of PFAS are invited in the following areas:

  • Identification of Sources Entering the Waste Management System
    • waste management systems include municipal solid waste landfills, construction and demolition landfills, material recovery facilities, composting and incineration
    • identification and estimation of the quantity of PFAS in products and/or waste materials that makeup significant sources in the waste streams entering the waste management system (e.g., consumer products, manufacturing residues, wastewater treatment sludge, industrial sludge, paper production and recycling sludges and contaminated soils/sediments)
    • evaluating whether biosolids represent a significant source of PFAS concentrations during management (e.g., landfills, composting, anaerobic digestion)
    • evaluate the relative PFAS contribution of remediation wastes (CERCLA and RCRA cleanup projects) vs. other inbound waste streams into the waste management system
    • examine the relative significance of various wastes regarding the amount of PFAS retained in waste management system vs. the amount potentially leaving those systems through liquid and gaseous emissions
  • Quantification of Human Exposure from Waste Management Practices
    • waste management systems (e.g., waste-to-energy, composting and landfills) have been targeted of significant PFAS research because they receive society’s waste that contain PFAS and are identified as contributing to possible exposure to humans and the environment.  However, recent studies have suggested that the predominate daily exposure to PFAS for humans is through the ingestion of food that comes into contact with packaging containing PFAS and household exposures such as PFAS in dust. Once this packaging or other consumer products containing PFAS enters the waste management system it can become a source of PFAS leaving the facility through liquid and gaseous emissions or other management pathways. Research is needed to quantify the contribution of these emissions relative to other more common exposure pathways to humans and the environment.
  • Measurement of PFAS in Landfill Gas
    • examine PFAS content of landfill gas, but more importantly, if concentrations lead to conditions in ambient air that may contribute to significant exposure risks relative to more common human exposure pathways
    • what is the fate of PFAS during the beneficial use of landfill gas (e.g., internal combustion engines)
  • Measurement and Distribution of PFAS in the Waste Mass
    • rapid field tests or enhanced laboratory methods to detect (screen) and quantify PFAS (existing technique are time-consuming and complex) in leachate and landfill gas
    • applicability of existing leaching methods to adequately simulate the mobility of PFAS from associated consumer/industrial products within the waste mass
  • PFAS Management, Treatment, and Destruction Strategies
    • strategies to pretreat wastes determined to be high in PFAS (or significant contributors to potential emissions) prior to disposal in the solid waste management system in order to minimize potential emissions
    • cost/benefit analysis of excluding known PFAS-containing waste streams from acceptance into the solid waste management system vs. expected treatment and management costs if waste streams are accepted
    • strategies to remove or sequester PFAS from landfill gas or leachate
    • evaluate what impacts flares have on PFAS destruction
    • thermal treatment processes (e.g., do waste-to-energy processes provide complete destruction of PFAS and are products of incomplete combustion formed, leachate thermal evaporators)
    • relative contribution of leachate PFAS loading to wastewater treatment plants

Pre-proposals submitted in response to this RFP should consider the focus areas noted herein. Projects and research previously funded by the Foundation can be viewed on its website. Previously awarded grants have ranged from $15,000 to over $500,000 with the average grant amount in recent years being $160,000. Typical project durations are about 2 years.

Submission Instructions and Deadline
The pre-proposal template must be used for all submissions and is available online. This template also includes details on formatting your submission. Pre-proposal submissions are limited to two submissions per primary Principal Investigator (PI), however a PI may be on multiple pre-proposals if it is demonstrated that it will not affect his or her ability to fulfill the scope of work in the primary investigation.

All submissions must include the project duration and budget. If invited to submit a full proposal, the budget cannot exceed the amount outlined in the pre-proposal submission. EREF will not pay indirect or overhead costs in excess of 25%. Cost sharing is permitted, but not required. Additional details on budget guidelines and restrictions can be found on EREF’s website.

Pre-proposals are currently being accepted online and will continue until the close of business (5:00 p.m. eastern time) on February 5, 2021.  Pre-proposals must be received during this window to be considered. Late submissions will not be accepted. 

Review Process
All pre-proposals received are screened by EREF staff. Shortlisted pre-proposals will be reviewed and discussed by the EREF Research Council’s Pre-Proposal Selection Committee. This review process can take up to 12 weeks from the solicitation deadline. Full details on the review process can be found on EREF’s website. Investigators invited to submit a full proposal will be given at least 30 calendar days to prepare their submission. 

Educational Projects
Note that one of EREF’s primary focal areas within its mission is to provide education. However, education components such as the development of educational materials or courses should not be included in a proposed project. EREF welcomes collaborations or partnerships with entities seeking to develop educational materials for sustainable solid waste management, including conferences or events, which advance the Foundation’s educational mission.  Grants are typically not provided to support the development of educational projects.  Thus, concepts for educational projects should NOT be submitted as a pre-proposal. Rather, please contact EREF at (919) 861-6876 ext. 108 or to discuss the concept.

Frequently Asked Questions
Typical questions pertaining to pre-proposal review and notifications, formatting requirements, submittal process (pre-proposal and proposal), typical award amounts and duration, and criteria for submissions are outlined on the EREF website.