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Laura DiGiacomo

Clemson University, PhD in Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences

EREF Scholar 2023

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of anthropogenic chemicals which were invented in the 1930s and have been widely used in industrial processes and consumer products due to their exceptional chemical and thermal stability and desirable oil and water repellant properties. However, these same properties cause PFAS to resist degradation by biotic and abiotic processes in the natural environment, and conventional water and wastewater treatment systems have not historically been designed to remove or destroy PFAS, leading to their widespread distribution throughout both engineered and natural systems. PFAS have been shown to accumulate in the human body, and links between exposure to PFAS and detrimental human health outcomes such as decreased immune response and cancer have led to increasingly stringent proposed regulations for utilities which process wastes in which PFAS have been detected. Municipal solid waste (MSW) leachate is a common by-product of solid waste management which can been effectively managed by engineered collection systems followed by biological and physical/chemical treatment to achieve current regulatory requirements prior to discharge. However, new regulations for PFAS in discharged waters are anticipated in coming years from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and new technologies to remove or destroy PFAS in MSW leachate are needed. The typically high ionic strength and organic content of MSW leachate provides an especially challenging matrix for most technologies under development, and many proposed approaches involve significant energy consumption. Photochemical processes utilizing ultraviolet (UV) irradiation may provide a relatively low-energy treatment option for the destruction of PFAS in MSW leachate. Photochemical processes show promise not only for the destruction of long-chain PFAS, which have been the traditional focus of research, but also shorter-chain PFAS which are produced by many existing destructive techniques. Application of photochemical processes to MSW leachate and evaluation of process performance under different matrix conditions provides a unique opportunity for potential cost-effective mitigation of PFAS contamination in modern solid waste management.


Laura DiGiacomo graduated from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering in May 2021. As an undergraduate, she led the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and Water Environment Federation (WEF) joint student chapter, taught writing and communication skills to engineering students at the Clemson Writing Center, and mentored incoming freshman in community service leadership through the Explore Your IMPACT Program. Laura also has over one year of experience in engineering consulting, during which she performed engineering design and management tasks for a range of projects focused on industrial wastewater reclamation and pretreatment, domestic wastewater treatment, water and wastewater conveyance, and groundwater monitoring well compliance reporting. Laura continued her studies as a graduate student in Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences at Clemson University in May 2021 with a focus in Process Engineering. She has worked continuously as a Research Assistant on projects funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) which focus on development, design, and pilot-scale performance evaluation of photolytic and photocatalytic treatment systems for the destruction of aqueous phase per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). As a doctoral student, Laura continues to enjoy collaborating with other students and professionals through professional and service organizations and anticipates graduation in August 2026.