Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances are Everywhere! What are They, and What Do We Do Now?

Alix E. Rodowa, NIST

7 February 2020

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are abundant in the environment as a result of the use and disposal of PFAS containing products (aqueous film forming foams, textiles, carpets, etc.). Subsequently, PFAS are contaminants in groundwater, soil, sediment, and biota including humans. Routine monitoring methods, method development, and commercial analysis have therefore become more widely available for PFAS, but remediation technologies and techniques are limited (e.g. granular activated carbon) and still being developed (e.g. plasma reactor). Granular activated carbon (GAC) adsorption is a frequently selected technology for remediating water containing organic contaminants, including PFAS. To investigate on type of remediation, a pilot-scale GAC system was established and run over nine months at a military fire-fighting training area to evaluate PFAS removal. Breakthrough was quantified for branched and/or linear isomers of 15 PFAS identified by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry including perfluoroalkyl carboxylates, perfluoroalkyl sulfonates, perfluoroalkyl sulfonamides, and fluorotelomer sulfonates. Chromatographic retention times of PFAS obtained from a single analysis of influent groundwater can be used to predict the relative order of breakthrough for other PFASs using similar mechanisms of retention (e.g. GAC).