Geraint Williams, Global PFAS Practice Lead at ALS, offers insight into meeting growing PFAS compliance challenges


ALS PFAS lead, Geraint Williams, collecting samples to assess risk to the water environment.
04 JUN 2024 ALS

As pioneers in testing water, soil and food for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), with one of the largest PFAS testing laboratory networks in the world, ALS is committed to providing clients with the knowledge and testing services they need to stay on top of PFAS regulations and meet compliance demands.


In our recently published guide to understanding the dynamic PFAS regulatory landscape, ALS characterised 2024 as a milestone year in the regulation of PFAS in the environment. Growing scientific understanding of PFAS – known as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment – and public concern about potential negative health impacts of PFAS contamination have led to a rapid increase in regulation of these chemicals.  
A key step ALS took this year in advancing its leadership in PFAS testing innovation was the appointment of technical director Geraint Williams as Global PFAS Practice Lead, based in the UK, to coordinate all of ALS’ efforts on PFAS around the world.

Geraint recently answered questions about the new role and about how ALS will continue to innovate, lead, and serve our clients as they face the new landscape of increasing PFAS regulations. 



Can you tell us about your role?


My new role as global practice lead for PFAS is aimed at standardising some of the processes within ALS. We have many labs around the world, but there's always this requirement to come up with new, innovative approaches and methods for analyzing PFAS, and it's great that we can draw on our experiences from around the world. Having a single point of contact globally to manage that process is an advantage.



What are some current and developing areas of focus for PFAS testing?


One PFAS of special concern is a constituent that's often found in firefighting foams. It's called 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonamide alkylbetaine (6:2 FTAB). This is currently not regulated as part of any suite of analysis in many countries, but we're seeing high concentrations of it. So, it is currently of particular interest in Europe, and I suspect it might become more important internationally as well. 

Another thing we're working on now is methods for PFAS in concrete. This is a potentially secondary source of contamination at sites being remediated.

PFAS forms layers on surfaces of concrete, which can be quite porous. When we've carried out analysis of concrete cores, looking at the different depths, we've found the highest concentrations of PFAS near the surface. So, we've been developing methods to look at different leaching protocols for PFAS in concrete, but also how to prep those kinds of concrete core samples.

We are doing quite a lot of work in Europe on that because you could end up spending millions of dollars remediating a former fire-training site and then get secondary contamination from runoff from the concrete, which might have been missed in conceptual site models. So, certainly, an area of growing interest is PFAS in concrete.


Geraint Williams, ALS PFAS Lead, speaking at the 2023 Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists (AGS) Ground Risk Conference, where he served as joint chair.
Geraint speaking at the 2023 Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists (AGS) Ground Risk Conference, where he served as joint chair.  



What would you say differentiates ALS as a PFAS testing leader?


We’re always working quite closely with our clients to fulfill their needs. So, for instance, we've developed an innovative approach for PFAS in foams. These are high-concentration samples that are tricky to analyze, but we have been developing methods to meet regulatory requirements around the world for the analysis of firefighting foams.

Working with some of our clients, we've been able to develop a method for swabbing the surfaces of tanks as well because you get this residual build up whenever anybody's doing foam decontamination projects. This issue of residual PFAS on the surfaces of tanks is similar to PFAS in concrete, actually.

Our method involves swabbing the surface of these tanks to understand if there's any potential impact from residual PFAS on surfaces that could contaminate fluorine-free foams. So again, there might be some potential liabilities.

More generally, around soils and groundwater, we've got a toolbox approach where we're able to analyze for standard targeted lists of PFAS, but we also have capabilities to analyse for non-targeted PFAS, using techniques like the total oxidizable precursor (TOP) assay. We also have capabilities to do total organic fluorine analysis, absorbable organic fluorine (AOF) and extractable organic fluorine (EOF), for instance.

And from a forensics point of view, we've got high-res mass spectrometry (MS) capabilities, so we use Thermo Scientific™ Orbitrap™ instruments that allow us to take more of a forensic approach in determining the sources of PFAS.

So whatever the particular requirements for a particular project, we've got all these options available, and these different approaches combine to offer a very complete package of techniques.



How are growing restrictions of PFAS impacting the testing landscape?


We've seen in the past where certain individual PFAS have been restricted, and then you sometimes end up with regrettable substitutes; GenX chemicals are a good example. 

In the UK, there is a particular type of PFAS called EEA NH4. We've had to develop a method for that. In Italy, there is another type of PFAS called C6O4. So, we're seeing all sorts of different types of PFAS that we're having to look at in different countries and develop methods for.

Interestingly, many of our clients have been working quite closely with us to develop new, innovative approaches for investigating and assessing sites, and we're all getting pushed in terms of our limits of detection. We also work quite closely with some remediation contractors, and we’re moving away from traditional sites.

We're seeing this around the world where, yes, people are looking at fire training areas, airport type sites, and sites that defense departments are involved in. But now we're seeing a wider range of sites: chrome-plating works, landfill leachate, biosolids—different types of sites where testing is being carried out, and that means an extended list of PFAS because the PFAS that you find in different types of sites are not always going to be exactly the same.



How will ALS meet the challenges of growing efforts to regulate PFAS around the world?


We strive to meet client expectations and requirements. We’re always receiving so many PFAS samples in our labs; we need to keep looking forward and making sure we're ahead of the curve and have enough capacity, especially for some of these bigger projects we're involved in. Even in Europe, we're seeing this quite regularly at the moment: where we've got only a certain capacity in the whole of the industry, not just ALS but the whole lab industry can't cope with the number of samples.

So we've got to invest.

We've got to be quite agile at developing new techniques, and there are new techniques out there. We're working quite closely with universities and looking at what kind of research is being done that might be applied to a commercial setting in the future.

One example of this is we’ve done quite a lot of TOP assay analysis, and there is now a new approach to TOP assays using UV activation, which would save time and improve turnaround times, but also help ensure better preservation of the perfluoroalkyl chain in the precursor structure and improve PFAS yield. 

We've established close ties with universities, so that when academia develops new methods, we will be one of the first labs to work closely with the researchers. Then, if it's possible to commercialise these techniques, we'll be one of the first labs to be able do that.


ALS would like to know about your needs, concerns and questions, and talk to you about our full-service testing and analysis services and affordable screening options. We know what you’re up against, and we are ready to help you meet the challenges ahead.

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