Improved Methods for PFAS Analytical and Environmental Sampling in the Subsurface

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Contamination of soils and waters by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is a challenge for the Department of Defense (DoD) due to the use of Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) formulations for fire suppression since the 1970s. Currently, there are no EPA published procedures for PFAS analyses in media other than drinking water; however, commercial laboratories offer analyses of these media using in-house developed methods that are based on EPA Method 537. Development of procedures to assess the total organofluorine in environmental waters and soil and sediment are needed to help assess transformation and distribution of PFAS, as well as to assess various aspects of PFAS remediation techniques.

In 2019, SERDP began funding a group of projects to develop standardized analytical and environmental sampling methods for PFAS in the subsurface. Described below are the five projects that were selected for funding, which includes two projects that are one-year, proof-of-concept approaches.

  • Dr. David Hanigan from the University of Nevada, Reno and his team will develop and validate a portable, automated, field-ready combustion laser spectroscopy instrumentation and procedures to quantify total organofluorine in waters, soil, and sediment. The resulting instrumentation will produce precise, accurate, and rapid quantitation in the field. ( Project Web Page)
  • At Oregon State University, Dr. Jennifer Field and her team are identifying and minimizing potential biases that are introduced when sampling groundwater and surface water for PFAS and providing a scientific basis for revised PFAS sampling and analysis protocols. This study will establish streamlined guidelines for field sampling and procedures and define optimal sample storage and handling conditions through laboratory and field efforts. ( Project Web Page)
  • Dr. Jinxia Liu from McGill University and her team are developing and validating improved analytical procedures for the comprehensive profiling of PFAS in AFFF-impacted environmental matrices and biological samples. These procedures will be developed for Total Oxidizable Precursor (TOP) assay and Total Extractable Organic Fluorine (TOF) content to determine total PFAS. ( Project Web Page)
  • In this one-year, proof-of-concept study, Dr. Lee Slater from Rutgers University, Newark and his team are completing bench-scale experiments to evaluate the potential for using two existing borehole-deployable geophysical technologies as rapid screening tools for the evaluation of PFAS in soils and sediments. Bench-scale measurements will be acquired using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and Complex Resistivity (CR) to compare the signal from contaminated versus uncontaminated samples to determine whether these technologies are sensitive enough to assess PFAS in source zones. ( Project Web Page)
  • At the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Graham Peaslee and his team are developing a Particle-Induced Gamma-ray Emission (PIGE) spectroscopic method of fluorine detection into a field-deployable technique that can rapidly screen groundwater, surface runoff, soils, and sediments for the presence of environmentally relevant concentrations of PFAS in the field in this one-year, proof-of-concept effort. The final sample volume required to attain different PFAS detection limits will be established using bench-scale testing with high-volume samplers and PIGE analysis of the solid-phase extraction media.  ( Project Web Page)

Summaries of these research projects are available on the SERDP and ESTCP website and all reports originating from these efforts will be available from the project web pages.

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