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Emerging Contaminants with Dr. Nizette Consolazio

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Dr. Nizette Consolazio is a Senior Engineer who specializes in the investigation of chemical contaminants and evaluating the impact of emerging contaminants. Nizette provides engineering insight regarding sampling and analysis plans, remedial action work plans and treatment system design. She received her B.S.E. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, followed by a Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University.

1. What got you interested in emerging contaminants?

I stumbled into the field of emerging contaminants while doing my PhD at Carnegie Mellon University. However, I think that with my background in engineering and environmental chemistry it was inevitable. My advisor had tasked me with investigating some analytical techniques to measure PFAS, one of the most prominent emerging contaminants today and I’ve been interested in the topic ever since.

2. Over the past 5 years, emerging contaminants are becoming a more prevalent issue in the regulatory world. How is KEY responding?

KEY stays up to date on federal and individual state guidelines and regularly review updates on the evolving analytical methods being employed to measure these newly regulated compounds. KEY’s experience is more than just a theoretical interest however. The company has helped clients address issues involving emerging contaminants in the past. Personally, I have been working on projects involving emerging contaminants, specifically PFAS since 2019.

3. There’s been a lot of talk about PFAS in the news lately. What would you like our clients to know about PFAS?

PFAS or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances refers to a broad category of man-made substances. Nicknamed the “forever chemicals”, these compounds are generally very stable, are excellent at repelling water and oil and are very mobile in water. However, these properties mean that they persist for a very long time in the environment and travel long distances from their source. USEPA is proposing to designate two specific PFAS compounds perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) -- as hazardous substances under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund. As of June 2022, the lifetime health advisory is 0.004 ppt for PFOA and 0.02 ppt for PFOS (where ppt stands for parts per trillion). Several states are considering or have already implemented regulations setting PFAS limits in water and/or soil at similar concentrations.

4. Parts per trillion? That seems very low. Have the analytical capabilities caught up with the regulatory thresholds being discussed?

Yes, this is extremely low. The USEPA-reported lowest concentration minimum reporting level for the drinking water analytical Method 537.1 is 0.82 ppt for PFOA and 2.7 ppt for PFOS. Therefore, the health advisories for PFOA and PFOS are significantly lower than what existing analytical methods can currently measure in drinking water. In addition, because PFAS are so ubiquitous, sampling for PFAS must follow the most rigorous standards in order to generate error-free and defensible data. Sampling and analyzing these compounds will be difficult indeed!

5. Has the issue of PFAS popped up at any of KEY’s Sites?

Yes. KEY has successfully evaluated PFAS compounds for some of our projects in New Jersey and New Hampshire, guiding our clients through the rapidly evolving regulatory landscape. Although the federal regulations are still in the works, several states have mandated that parties conducting remediation must either sample or perform an evaluation to determine whether PFAS are present at their Site.

6. What other services can KEY offer clients regarding PFAS?

The regulations are constantly changing, making it difficult to understand whether their Site requires any action related to PFAS. KEY can help by providing the relevant and current technical and regulatory background regarding PFAS. In addition, as a full-service environmental firm, KEY can help with all aspects of PFAS remediation including sampling; site assessments/evaluations; due diligence; as well as remedial design and implementation.

7. Where do you see the regulatory and technical direction of these and other emerging contaminants in the near future?

If PFOS and PFOA are added to the list of CERCLA compounds, this will have significant financial implications for a many industries. The USEPA will be able to mandate that parties it deems to be responsible to either cleanup the site or reimburse the USEPA for the full remediation of the contamination. In addition, the extremely low concentrations put forward as health advisories will make analyzing and remediating these persistent compounds extremely difficult.

Fortunately, the remediation industry is certainly rising to the challenge. Old and new approaches are being evaluated for the treatment of PFAS and other emerging contaminants. These will only continue to improve in efficacy and cost-effectiveness over time.