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Bharat Chandramouli

Senior Scientist at SGS

Panelist on Effectively Managing PFAS Contamination to Meet New Regulatory Limits

Bharat Chandramouli, Ph. D is a senior scientist with 20+ years of experience in the occurrence, fate and transport of organic contaminants. He has published several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on atmospheric chemistry, PFAS measurement, emerging contaminants occurrence, semivolatiles fate and transport and more.


At SGS, Bharat manages the development of new products and services in North America and provides technical leadership on PFAS and other emerging contaminant issues. Bharat completed his Ph. D in environmental science and atmospheric chemistry from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

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Expert insight: PFAS - the billion-dollar cleanup conundrum

What are the risks, challenges, and priorities in managing PFAS contamination in light of the recent regulatory changes, lawsuits and treatment innovations? SGS product director for environmental health and safety Bharat Chandramouli, provides key pointers ahead of participating in the PFAS breakout session at Environment Analyst’s Global Delivery Summit on June 24-26, 2024.



Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have emerged as a multi-billion-dollar environmental management concern because of their ubiquity and persistence in the environment designating them as “forever chemicals” in the media. PFAS are prevalent in our bodies with decades of research linking them to cancer, immunity, endocrine and metabolism disruptions. 

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPS) has concluded that certain PFAS like PFOS and PFOA are unsafe at any level in drinking water. With upcoming regulation in drinking water, waste, products and in food, and as the subject of investigation, remediation, and litigation across the country, we in the environment and sustainability community face a daunting PFAS conundrum. How do we manage these PFAS contamination challenges?

The overarching issues include:

  • PFAS are useful: PFAS provide unique enhancements like durable water repellency, surface activity, oil resistance and stability in consumer and industrial products from firefighting, food packaging, clothing, polymers and plastics while replacements would face a high performance and safety barrier.


  • Ultra-low regulatory limits: for example, the new maximum contaminant limit (MCL) for PFOS and PFOA is 4 parts per trillion, approaching current background environmental levels. 


  • Cleanup effort costs: given the stability of the carbon-fluorine bond, the staggering diversity of PFAS properties, and the energy demand to remediate PFAS, this is a multi-billion dollar cleanup effort. 


  • Priorities: we are faced with many other compelling sustainability and environmental justice issues that compete for priorities including climate change, air pollution, lead abatement and more. 


  • Uncertainty: this exists at every step starting from definitions, counts of known PFAS ranging from thousands to millions, their chemistry and toxicology.


All these challenges aside, managing PFAS contamination is now an inevitable high-priority policy mandate. Where do we start?

  • Tackle at the source: the best PFAS mitigation strategy is to stop emitting. A Minnesota government study estimated that it costs $50-$1,000 per pound to purchase PFAS and $2.7-$18M per pound to remove. Our search for alternatives for commercial and industrial uses is critical in avoiding future contamination. Fluorine-free alternatives for aqueous film-forming foams are already available and the push to safer alternatives in consumer and industrial products is an active source of R&D. Regulation in multiple jurisdictions (the EU, US states such as Washington) and consumer pressure will provide further impetus for PFAS-free products at least for non-essential uses.


  • Measure often: we cannot mitigate what we cannot measure. Providing timely and useful PFAS data is critical to the cleanup. Priorities for the lab community include lowering reporting limits to keep up with regulation, standardization of methods, expanding capacity and innovating to provide data faster and more economically as the list of PFAS of interest grows. As we prioritize remediation, our measurement scope grows to include novel PFAS that may be created through transformation and to address air emissions.


  • The remediation research moonshot: regulation, sustained funding and urgency are great motivators for innovation. It has been a thrilling decade as new techniques for PFAS remediation such as nano-filtration, foam fractionation, in-situ stabilization, and advanced flocculation, oxidation and reduction techniques get tested. Especially at Department of Defense contaminated sites, these innovations will need to be piloted, tested at scale and successfully commercialized, a massive effort that is now underway.


  • Invest in implementation at scale: the EPA estimated that the cost of compliance for the MCL, just one of many upcoming PFAS regulations, is approximately $1.5B annually. So, even for the relatively less complex task of filtering drinking water using granular activated carbon or ion exchange resins, the costs of scaling and implementation are high due to the very low limits. When we consider waste and contaminated sites, these costs are massive. The state of Minnesota estimated that for that state alone, mitigating PFAS in waste would cost $0.7- 1.4B per year over 20 years. Tough choices are ahead on assigning responsibility and providing the funding to scale these solutions. 


While PFAS contamination is a major challenge, their management presents a great opportunity to significantly advance the science and practice of environmental remediation and bring our collective will and ingenuity to solve a generational problem. 

Hear more from Bharat at the Summit

Meet Bharat and learn more about how to manage PFAS to meet new regulatory limits at the Summit this June (24-26 June 2024, Boston).

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