Securing The Future.

Beyond the Surface: The Dangers of Leachate in Landfills

This blog explores the dangers of leachate and PFAs, highlighting their impact on water quality and the environment. It also discusses how Avena’s secure and sustainable solutions can help mitigate these environmental dangers.


What is Leachate? 

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Leachate is primarily formed by water percolating through solid waste deposited in a landfill site. Chemicals and constituents from the waste material are drawn or ‘leached’ out of the buried waste, contaminating the water upon contact. Although it typically consists of both dissolved and suspended materials, the composition of leachate varies significantly depending on both the age of the landfill site and the type of waste it contains.


What are PFAs?

You might not realise it, but 99% of humans are believed to have measurable levels of PFAs in their bloodstream. Polyfluoroalkyl substances (also


known as PFAs or “forever chemicals”) are a family of around 10,000 chemicals championed for their indestructible and non-stick properties.

Most PFAs are so robust that they won’t break down or decompose in the environment for tens of thousands of years. PFAs are also known to bioaccumulate, meaning the body absorbs them faster than it can excrete them, so they accumulate over time.


What is the link between Leachate and PFAs?


Between 2021 and 2022, consultants working for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency spent 10 months sampling operational and closed landfill sites to generate an overall picture of the chemical substances found inthe landfill leachate. The results, published in an Ends Report, revealed that in one landfill site, the total sum of PFAs in the raw leachate was 105,910 nanograms per litre.

Although there are no restrictions on the total sum of PFAs allowed in drinking water in the United Kingdom, the Drinking Water Inspectorate’s guidelines allow levels of PFOS and PFOA (the two most widely studied forms of PFAs found in drinking water) of up to 100 nanograms per litre. However, in one of the samples from the investigation, PFOA was recorded at 260 times higher than the current guidance for safe levels in drinking water.


What are the Dangers?

The primary and significant risk that leachate poses is ground and surface water contamination. Due to the presence of PFAs, various rivers in the United Kingdom fail to meet standards for chemical health, potentially endangering the wildlife that lives within them.


Looking at the broader situation, between 2006-2018 researchers found high levels of “forever chemicals” in 12 Killer Whales they were studying. The chemical likely entered the ocean through waste treatment plants, contaminating smaller animals and organisms that the Killer Whales then ingested.

Although toxicity can currently only be applied to PFOS and PFOA, the DuPont scandal that was popularised by the 2019 film Dark Waters highlights the dangers of PFAs and just how dangerous they can be.

From the 1950s until the early 2000s, DuPont dumped 7,100 tonnes of PFOA waste into dry run landfill, with the chemical eventually reaching southwest Parkersburg’s drinking water supplies.


Between 2005 and 2013, blood samples of around 70,000 people living in close vicinity to the DuPont plant were studied. The results concluded that there was a “probable link” between six diseases and exposure to PFOA: high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Further studies have suggested that PFOS and PFOA can depress immune responses, making vaccines less effective, and can be linked to birth defects and delayed development.


How can Avena help minimise the effects of PFAs and Leachate?

Properly designed and engineered landfill sites, impermeably lined with engineered clay or constructed on geologically impermeable materials, can mitigate the risks of leachate generation. However, despite stricter controls, landfill sites will continue to exist for many years to come, and leachates from modern sites containing a range of contaminants will continue to affect the environment.

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So how can Avena’s services help? We are committed to sustainable end-of-life processes for the destruction and recycling of textile, PPE and electronic waste, with the goal of sending zero waste to landfill.

Through our SECURALL, SECUREBRAND and SECURETECH solutions, we collect, process and certificate this waste to satisfy our clients’ brand and data security requirements while delivering sustainable and positive environmental outcomes.


Interesting in learning more about our services? Speak to one of our experts today.

Looking for a quick quote for secure destruction & recycling? Get a quote today.


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