Seneca Meadows, New York’s largest landfill, has been shipping untreated leachate, or landfill runoff, to Buffalo, where it was then discharged into the Niagara River. Leachate is one of four major sources of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), otherwise known as "forever chemicals."
Last year, Seneca Meadows produced nearly 250 million litres of leachate containing the PFAS chemicals.
“The challenge they have . . . to upgrade the entire plant to do PFAS treatment would be a very expensive endeavour,” Richard Nie, StreamGo’s president and CEO, told SustainableBiz.
“What we proposed to them, because we have the unique abilities where we can treat dirty water for PFAS – we don't need pristine clean water for our treatment process – we could do a pre-treatment system for the leachate and then pass everything else on to them for the normal treatment.”
Prior to treating the leachate, PFAS levels stood at 30,000 parts per trillion. After installing StreamGo’s solution, the company says PFAS levels have been minimized to non-detect status – or 0.04 parts per trillion.
StreamGo’s PFAS solution
In 2019, StreamGo underwent a major restructuring as part of its goal of direct reuse – taking wastewater directly to clean drinking water. According to Nie, the company was one of the first "in the PFAS world."
“Taking wastewater to the drinking water, obviously, we need to be able to treat everything in the water that comes back from sewer systems. That's how we developed a lot of the technologies that we're using today for PFAS. We were headed down a different path.”
StreamGo uses reverse osmosis – in which the water is pushed through a semi-permeable membrane – and a technology called foam fractionation. The contaminated water is then reduced to its constituent components – carbon dioxide, water and fluoride – and contaminants are disposed of safely.
“If we're treating a million gallons a week, we're producing a pail of this stuff (PFAS),” Nie said. “By time we break it down, it's very small amounts and they're all environmentally friendly.”
While every installation is different, the company has basic turnkey solutions for the three main PFAS sources: wastewater, leachates and drinking water. With the Buffalo Sewer Authority, the unit was operational within a week.
StreamGo got in touch with Buffalo via its New York representative, Koester Associates. The company initially utilized a pilot unit for testing with the leachates which processed almost 190,000 litres per day – a third of what the authority receives.
"This is a temporary demonstration pilot plant that is completing a number of rounds of testing to prove technology performance and provide final process design inputs for the permanent plant that will be built to handle all received flows in the future,” Nie explained in an email.
StreamGo’s future plans
Alongside its existing Hamilton facility, StreamGo is looking to the U.S. Midwest for another facility for its PFAS process which Nie estimates will be approximately 200,000 square feet and create up to 400 jobs.
A U.S. Geological Survey study from July estimates at least 45 per cent of the nation’s tap water has one or more types of PFAS present. The size of the market available to StreamGo is just beginning to be understood, according to Nie, who said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to upgrade 53,000 water treatment facilities.
“While those 40-some per cent of water systems will need some type of support, the wastewater side comes in around 90 to 95 per cent of facilities have PFAS in their effluent. Then leachate is much higher than that,” he said.
“So the wastewater side is about four to five times the size of market of the water . . . When you think about it, the facilities we're talking about today, will satisfy less than one per cent of that.”
The company’s ultimate goal is direct reuse – taking wastewater to drinking water by marrying its PFAS unit with its wastewater technology. Nie said Colorado has already approved its direct use technology and five other states are going through the process.
While StreamGo has a wastewater division that continues to grow across the U.S., Nie said its PFAS division will likely succeed it quickly in size and scale.
As for why there is more focus on the U.S. for a homegrown company, Nie explained many of the incentives are not yet present in Canada.
“Our wastewater side is growing throughout Canada, but the PFAS side of things has not garnered attention yet in Canada, like it has in the U.S.,” he said “Right now, our focus is the U.S. for PFAS. There's money out there, there's grants out there from the government to help communities.
“So that’s who we’re helping first.”