Subsurface transport potential of perfluoroalkyl acids at aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF)-impacted sites

Jennifer L. Guelfo, Christopher P. Higgins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

226 Scopus citations


Subsurface transport potential of a suite of perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) was studied in batch sorption experiments with various soils and in the presence of co-contaminants relevant to aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF)-impacted sites. Specifically, PFAA sorption to multiple soils in the presence of nonaqueous phase liquid (NAPL) and nonfluorinated AFFF surfactants was examined. This study is the first to report on sorption of perfluorobutanoate (PFBA) and perfluoropentanoate (PFPeA) (log Koc = 1.88 and 1.37, respectively) and found that sorption of these compounds does not follow the chain-length dependent trend observed for longer chain-length PFAAs. Sorption of PFBA was similar to that of perfluorooctanoate (PFOA, log Koc = 1.89). NAPL and nonfluorinated AFFF surfactants all had varying impacts on sorption of longer chain (>6 CF2 groups) PFAAs. The primary impact of NAPL was observed in low foc soil (soil A) where Freundlich n-values increased when NAPL was present. Impacts of nonfluorinated AFFF surfactants varied with surfactant and soil. The anionic surfactant sodium decyl sulfate (SDS) illicited PFAA chain-length dependent impacts in two negatively charged soils with varying foc. In soil A, Kd values for perfluoroheptanoate (PFHpA) increased 91% with SDS, whereas values for perfluorodecanoate (PFDA) increased only 28%. An amphoteric surfactant, n,n-dimethyldodecylamine n-oxide (AO), had the most notable impact on PFAA sorption to a positively charged soil (soil C). In this soil, AO oxide significantly increased sorption for the longer chain PFAAs (i.e., 528% increase in Kd for PFDA). Changes in sorption caused by SDS and AO may be due to mixed hemimicelle formation, competitive sorption, or changes to PFAA solubility. Short-chain PFAA behavior in the presence of NAPL, SDS, and AO was again notable. Co-contaminants generally increased the sorption of these compounds to all soils. Log Kd values of PFBA in soil A increased 85%, 372%, and 32% in the presence of NAPL, SDS, and AO, respectively. Use of Kd values to calculate retardation factors (Rf) of PFAAs demonstrates the variability of co-contaminant impacts on PFAA transport. Whereas NAPL and nonfluorinated surfactants decreased the sorption of perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) at lower PFOS concentrations (1 μg/L), they led to increases in sorption at higher PFOS concentrations (500 μg/L). These results demonstrate that PFAA groundwater transport will depend on the solid phase characteristics as well as PFAA concentration and chain length. Detailed site-specific information will likely be needed to accurately predict PFAA transport at AFFF-impacted sites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4164-4171
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 7 2013


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