Environmental Source Tracking of Per- And Polyfluoroalkyl Substances within a Forensic Context: Current and Future Techniques

Joseph A. Charbonnet, Alix E. Rodowa, Nayantara T. Joseph, Jennifer L. Guelfo, Jennifer A. Field, Gerrad D. Jones, Christopher P. Higgins, Damian E. Helbling, Erika F. Houtz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The source tracking of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) is a new and increasingly necessary subfield within environmental forensics. We define PFAS source tracking as the accurate characterization and differentiation of multiple sources contributing to PFAS contamination in the environment. PFAS source tracking should employ analytical measurements, multivariate analyses, and an understanding of PFAS fate and transport within the framework of a conceptual site model. Converging lines of evidence used to differentiate PFAS sources include: identification of PFASs strongly associated with unique sources; the ratios of PFAS homologues, classes, and isomers at a contaminated site; and a site's hydrogeochemical conditions. As the field of PFAS source tracking progresses, the development of new PFAS analytical standards and the wider availability of high-resolution mass spectral data will enhance currently available analytical capabilities. In addition, multivariate computational tools, including unsupervised (i.e., exploratory) and supervised (i.e., predictive) machine learning techniques, may lead to novel insights that define a targeted list of PFASs that will be useful for environmental PFAS source tracking. In this Perspective, we identify the current tools available and principal developments necessary to enable greater confidence in environmental source tracking to identify and apportion PFAS sources.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7237-7245
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021


  • conceptual site models
  • environmental forensics
  • high-resolution mass spectrometry
  • multivariate statistics
  • per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances
  • source tracking


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