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Local News

NH is First State to Partner with ‘PFAS Annihilator’ to Destroy Firefighting Foams 

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by Hadley Barndollar, New Hampshire Bulletin
July 25, 2023

In 2019, the state of New Hampshire banned firefighting foams containing PFAS chemicals, as mounting evidence linked the widely used fire suppressant to higher cancer rates among firefighters and contamination of drinking water. 

And yet, fire departments around the state are still storing these now-prohibited foams on site. That’s because, up until now, there wasn’t a safe or effective way to dispose of them. 

New Hampshire is the inaugural state to partner with new “PFAS Annihilator” technology, believed to be a first-to-the-market solution from Ohio-based Revive Environmental. Under its contract with Revive, the state is expected to remove and dispose of 10,000 gallons of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) through a takeback program with municipal fire departments

“The need to remove these toxic PFAS-containing foams from firehouses throughout New Hampshire is a must,” said Brian Ryll, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire. “As it stands now, many fire departments across the state have a stockpile of these foam products that are not able to be used. As time goes by, the likelihood of inadvertent use or exposure to these products increases.”

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances have been used for decades in fire protection equipment and types of Class B firefighting foam, the most common of which is AFFF. Identified as a leading cause of PFAS contamination in drinking water, AFFF been used and stored at local fire departments, military installations, airports, and other facilities.

When the state Legislature prohibited firefighting foams containing PFAS for use in testing or training, and banned manufacturers from knowingly selling or distributing these foams in New Hampshire unless otherwise specifically exempt, it also directed the Department of Environmental Services to form a takeback program.

But finding an end destination for the contaminants wasn’t easy.

Mike Wimsatt, Waste Management Division director at DES, said his department missed an initial deadline to stand up the takeback program because it hadn’t confidently identified a company or technology. 

Initially, the state looked at a facility in New York that would have incinerated the AFFF stockpiles, but with that came concerns about air pollution and emissions. The other option, Wimsatt said, was a landfill, but that would have only buried the contaminants and not destroyed them.

The interior of Revive Environmental’s PFAS Annihilator technology. (Courtesy of Battelle)

Now, they’re glad they waited. Revive Environmental commercially deployed its PFAS Annihilator in April. The technology uses high temperature and pressure to break down PFAS molecules into safe byproducts, the company said, effectively destroying PFAS in contaminated wastewater, landfill leachate, and AFFF.

In return, Revive Environmental will give the state a “certificate of annihilation.” 

“We really set it as an internal goal to make sure we arrived at a technology that minimized the potential liabilities for our fire departments,” Wimsatt said. 

AFFF takeback program

Last year, DES conducted an inventory of legacy firefighting foam stockpiles across the state in preparation for this year’s takeback program. Wimsatt said the department is currently working with local fire departments and the state Fire Marshal’s Office to establish consolidated pickup locations in all 10 counties.

From the pickup sites, Heritage-Crystal Clean, a waste management service, will transport the collected AFFF to Revive Environmental’s PFAS Annihilator mobile technology at a facility in Wyoming, Michigan. Funding for the state’s $668,258 contract with Revive will come from two DES pots of money: hazardous waste cleanup funds and emerging contaminants funds.

“Frankly we’re excited,” said Wimsatt. “We’re glad we’ve identified this technology. This will be the first takeback program that will send AFFF to this facility for destruction.”

Wimsatt said it’s typical for a small fire department to have at least a 5-gallon can of AFFF concentrate. The longer these stockpiles hang around, he said, the likelihood grows that they’ll be mismanaged or cause contamination. 

At the former Pease Air Force Base, a federal Superfund site, the contamination of at least one well was attributed to past use of AFFF at the air base and its fire training center. Thousands of people were exposed to PFAS chemicals until the well was shut down in 2014.

Communities around Pease were selected for a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry because of residents’ exposure to the contaminated drinking water.

PFAS have been linked to a host of adverse health effects, including increased risk of cancer and interference with development, hormones, and the immune and reproductive systems.

Ryll, who in addition to being the state fire association head is also a captain at the Portsmouth Fire Department, said he’s hopeful that fire departments will see the value and take advantage of the upcoming takeback program. 

“The Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire will continue to encourage department heads to rid their fire stations and trucks of these products, in order to limit our members’ exposure and reduce liability to cities and towns,” he said. 

Firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Pictured is at left is raw leachate, and at right, the result after treatment by the “PFAS Annihilator.” (Courtesy of Battelle)

How does the PFAS Annihilator work?

Because of its technology’s touted ability to broadly destroy PFAS, Revive’s partnership with the Granite State is likely to be a model going forward. The company expects New Hampshire will be the first of many states it will contract with, especially since federal PFAS limits are currently in the works by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

The PFAS Annihilator technology comes from Battelle, a private nonprofit applied science and technology development company. To see it be developed for practical use, Battelle launched Revive Environmental with Viking Global Investors, transferring over its patents for “the only proven lifecycle solution to PFAS mitigation in the U.S. today.”

“What we do, simply put, you give me a gallon of really nasty AFFF liquid, I make that into water that can go right into your water and drinking fountain after treatment,” said David Trueba, president and CEO of Revive Environmental. “It’s that pure. We don’t only destroy PFAS, we mineralize it to basic elements.” 

Trueba explained the heat and pressure of the PFAS Annihilator – which is powered by supercritical water oxidation – break down the carbon-fluorine bond that allows PFAS to persist in the environment. The byproducts are water, inert salts, and carbon dioxide. 

In trials of more than 30 PFAS-contaminated sample types, the technology demonstrated more than 99.99 percent destruction of total PFAS, Revive Environmental says. 

Trueba said New Hampshire wanted a technology partner that could give the state “batch-by-batch confirmation that the PFAS was destroyed,” and therefore reducing liability for its fire departments. 

“It’s really significant,” he said. “It gives states peace of mind and a responsible care opportunity.” 

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.