The groundbreaking of a Veolia North America thermal waste treatment facility in Gum Springs, Arkansas, could provide the flexibility to deal with PFAS-laden waste and signals the company's interest in cradle-to-grave management of waste streams.
The regulatory environment surrounding per- and polyflouroalkyl substances (PFAS) treatment and destruction are still developing. In the past month, the U.S. EPA has shared its proposal to designate certain PFAS as hazardous waste through the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). The agency also provided its PFAS drinking water regulation proposal to the Office of Management and Budget, a crucial step in introducing regulations.
Bob Cappadona, President and CEO of Veolia North America's Environmental Solutions and Services Group, said the facility — which has a planned 2024 completion date — could be part of the company's solution for handing PFAS-laden wastes, but stopped short of confirming the facility would be used for such purposes.
"The regulation of PFAS related materials continues to evolve, and Veolia continues to monitor and support these regulatory developments," Cappadona said via email. "At the same time, we also continue to research innovative methods for managing these materials in various media. This includes treatment of aqueous streams and solids or remediation wastes. The Gum Springs treatment complex will provide a closed loop thermal treatment option that may be part of the plan for addressing PFAS in the environment... At this point, we have not designated the new facility for any specific waste streams, but we will add this treatment capability to our portfolio and continue to track the research, regulations and waste stream generation."
According to a press release from Veolia, the Gum Springs thermal waste treatment facility will be "the most advanced, environmentally efficient of its kind in the United States, demonstrating Veolia’s commitment to economic growth and environmental innovation in Arkansas." Two plants currently in operation in Gum Springs will be replaced by this facility on a site that Veolia acquired in 2020.
"The incinerator will be a state of the art thermal treatment facility, and all of the residuals from the incinerator will be managed at the adjacent Gum Springs landfill," Cappadona said. "In addition, the landfill is a zero discharge facility in that the leachate from the landfill will be thermally treated via the incinerator as well."
According to the press release, this facility is the first of its kind to be permitted in the U.S. in seven years. It will add more than 100 full-time jobs in addition to opening up opportunities for trade contractors.
Fred Van Heems, Veolia North American President and CEO, shared pride in developing jobs and investing in the area with the construction of the facility.
“Through major expansions like the facility in Gum Springs, Veolia remains focused on supporting our regional footprint through results-driven innovation and investment in infrastructure upgrades that create meaningful, permanent jobs for the local community,” Van Heems said in the press release. “As members of the Gum Springs-Arkadelphia community, this ribbon cutting affirms our commitment to sharing both our resources and expertise with our communities while working together to build environmentally sound and innovative projects.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was on site for the groundbreaking ceremony and lauded the facility for bettering the environment and bringing jobs to the community.
“I am happy to celebrate the construction of this impressive new facility, which will bring enormous economic and environmental benefits to the people of this community and our state,” Hutchinson said. “We are making it known that Arkansas is a place where companies like Veolia can bring innovation and growth, and invest in the future.”
The facility will replace two existing therman treatment plants on the approximately 1,400-acre site, which is also home to a landfill. According to the Veolia NA press release, it will use the most advanced technology available for capturing emissions, preserving air quality and for capturing thermal heat for the generation of electricity at the plant.