Alexandra Duchesne

Smouldering (STAR) Remediation of PFAS-contaminated soil & granular activated carbon

Waterproof jackets, non-stick pans, food paper wrappings and carpeting are some of the thousands of products that contain and release a toxic group of chemicals – called PFAS. PFAS chemicals resist degradation and bioaccumulate in the environment and people, where it is suspected they cause serious health problems. PFAS contamination is common at airports and firefighting training facilities where aqueous film forming foam has been used. While it is known that PFAS chemicals stick to soil and granular activated carbon (GAC) filters, no method has yet been found to treat this polluted soil. This innovative research demonstrates the elimination of PFAS chemicals from polluted soil and GAC, for the first time, through the use of a soil treatment technology called STAR. STAR uses minimal energy input by smouldering the soil and GAC at very high temperatures; this is the key to a low-cost, yet effective method for destroying PFAS chemicals. This research is expected to lead, to a method for removing these toxic chemicals from the environment.

Personal Background

Alex completed an undergraduate thesis under the supervision of Dr. Jason Gerhard. Her undergraduate thesis project explored the use of STAR in determining alternative disposal options for anaerobic digestate waste and pulp and paper sludge. Alex graduated from Western University in 2017 with a degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering with International Development and began her graduate program in Environmental Engineering in 2017 under the supervision of Dr. Jason Gerhard. During her masters, Alex has also completed a collaborative degree in Environment & Sustainability


  • Eric & Ruby Chung Graduate Award – Western University – 2018
  • NSERC – CGS – Master’s Program – Western University – 2018
  • Ontario Graduate Scholarship – Western University – 2017
  • Dean’s Honor Role – Western University – 2013-2017
  • London and District Construction Association Award – Western University – 2016
  • Fridrick Weijerman Memorial Award – Western University – 2015
  • Western University Continuing Admission Scholarship – Western University – 2012-2017
  • Value Scholarship – Western University – 2012-2017