Transport of Perfluorochemicals to Surface and Subsurface Soils


Feng Xiao, John Gulliver, Matt Simcik

March 2013

Report no. CTS 13-17



Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), as persistent organic pollutants, are ubiquitously present in the environment, and have been detected in human blood and breast milk at concentrations of concern to health and environmental regulators. This project aims to identify the PFOS/PFOA contamination sources, contaminant release mechanisms, and migration pathways from contaminated soils. Soil samples at different depths along and perpendicular to a U.S. highway were collected, and both compounds were regularly quantified in all of our surface soils samples (0.2-125.7 ng/g dry soil weight). The results of the surveying and sampling program and subsequently geo-statistical modeling with the aid of a Geographic Information System (GIS) identified two hot spots, and supported wind as the primary transport carrier causing the mitigation of contaminated soils from the hot spots to off-site soils. The observations indicate that PFOS and PFOA contamination is not contained to a few hot spots, but is migrating with wind and traffic to other locations. This proposed soil-to-soil migration pathway appears to be an important and heretofore overlooked migration mechanism of PFOS and PFOA from contaminated spots. We also studied their occurrence and fate in subsurface soil samples, and found a general increase in concentrations with the depth at which soil samples were collected, indicating that the contamination is also migrating toward the groundwater table.

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