Detecting a “danger” lurking in landfills Detecting a “danger” lurking in landfills

Detecting a “danger” lurking in landfills

Detecting a “danger” lurking in landfills

Landfills across the United States are releasing toxic gases into the air, polluting the atmosphere with airborne chemicals that are forever, a new study finds.

Permanent toxic substances remain in the environment and the human body for months or even years, increasing the risk of thyroid, kidney and testicular cancer, heart disease and liver damage.

The chemicals, also known as PFAS, are found almost everywhere, including in our water and food supplies. 

In the study, the research team from Yale University and the University of Florida tested the outdoor air around three Florida landfills that were filled with decaying food, clothing, cosmetics and sewage laden with PFAS.

The researchers found 13 different types of forever chemicals in the emitted gas, which pollutes the surrounding air and potentially harms anyone breathing it miles away.

The team worked to determine the path of leachate, or landfill gas, that contributes most to the release of PFAS. 

Most of the PFAS they found belong to a class of compounds called “fluorotelomer alcohols,” which contain a high percentage of fluorine, allowing them to remain in the environment for months or years.

The concentration of fluorine in landfill gas ranged from 32 to 76% of the total mass of PFAS, compared to 24 to 68% in landfill leachate.

“The results suggest that landfill gas, a less-screened byproduct, serves as a major pathway for PFAS movement from landfills,” the researchers said.

Landfill leachate (liquid discharged from landfills) is usually collected and treated to prevent further pollution into the environment. However, landfill gas, which includes methane and PFAS, spreads into the atmosphere untreated.

While pollution mitigation efforts typically focus on PFAS in drinking water supplies, the gas released from landfills should be included in future plans to reduce exposure to the chemicals.

The results of the experiment were published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

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