Estimated scale of costs to remove PFAS from the environment at current emission rates

Sci Total Environ. 2024 Mar 25:918:170647. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.170647. Epub 2024 Feb 6.


This discussion article builds upon existing data to ask whether environmental remediation and treatment is an economically viable solution to manage global environmental stocks of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) without extensive use restrictions. Their environmental persistence means that PFAS released into the environment will remain there until actively removed and destroyed. Thus, removing and destroying PFAS from the global environment at the same rate they are currently being added reflects a theoretical steady-state condition where global PFAS stocks remain constant. Current costs to remove perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs), a subclass of PFAS, from the environment at the same rate they are being added were estimated here at 20 to 7000 trillion USD per year. If the ratio of total PFAS emissions to PFAAs emissions matches current production ratios, total PFAS release rates and associated treatment costs could be 10 to 10,000 higher than presented above for PFAAs only. Thus, current costs to remove and destroy the total PFAS mass released annually into the environment would likely exceed the global GDP of 106 trillion USD. While this level of treatment is not technically or economically achievable, it highlights the unaffordability of using environmental remediation alone to manage environmental PFAS stocks. Without significant reductions in production and emissions, the mass of PFAS present in the global environment will continue to rise. Treating targeted environmental media will be needed to manage human and environmental health impacts, but we are limited to the level of treatment that is practical and affordable.

Keywords: PFAS use restriction; Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS); cost estimates; environmental remediation; global stocks; steady-state.