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Landfill leachate contributes per-/poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and pharmaceuticals to municipal wastewater

March 13, 2020

Widespread disposal of landfill leachate to municipal sewer infrastructure in the United States calls for an improved understanding of the relative organic-chemical contributions to the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) waste stream and associated surface-water discharge to receptors in the environment. Landfill leachate, WWTP influent, and WWTP effluent samples were collected from three landfill-WWTP systems and compared with analogous influent and effluent samples from two WWTPs that did not receive leachate. Samples were analyzed for 73 per-/poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), 109 pharmaceuticals, and 21 hormones and related compounds. PFAS were detected more frequently in leachate (92%) than in influent (55%). Total PFAS concentrations in leachate (93,100 ng/L) were more than ten times higher than in influent (6,950 ng/L), and effluent samples (3,730 ng/L). Concentrations of bisphenol A; the nonprescription pharmaceuticals cotinine, lidocaine, nicotine; and the prescription pharmaceuticals amphetamine, carisoprodol, pentoxifylline, and thiabendazole were an order of magnitude higher in landfill leachate than WWTP influent. Leachate load contributions for PFAS (0.78 to 31 g/d), bisphenol A (0.97 to 8.3 g/d), and nonprescription (2.0 to 3.1 g/d) and prescription (0.48 to 2.5 g/d) pharmaceuticals to WWTP influent were generally low (<10 g/d) for most compounds because of high influent-to-leachate volumetric ratios (0.983). No clear differences in concentrations were apparent between effluents from WWTPs receiving landfill leachate and those that did not receive landfill leachate.