An investigation into per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in nineteen Australian wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs)

By Timothy L. Coggan, Damien Moodie, Adam Kolobaric, Drew Szabo, Jeff Shimeta, Nicholas D. Crosbie, Elliot Lee, Milena Fernandes, and Bradley O. Clarke
September 10, 2019
DOI: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02316


Quantifying the emissions of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from Australian wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) is of high importance due to potential impacts on receiving aquatic ecosystems. The new Australian PFAS National Environmental Management Plan recommends 0.23 ng L-1 of PFOS as the guideline value for 99% species protection for aquatic systems. In this study, 21 PFAS from four classes were measured in WWTP solid and aqueous samples from 19 Australian WWTPs. The mean ∑21PFAS was 110 ng L-1(median: 80 ng L-1; range: 9.3-520 ng L-1) in aqueous samples and 34 ng g-1 dw (median: 12 ng g-1 dw; range: 2.0-130 ng g-1 dw) in WWTP solids. Similar to WWTPs worldwide, perfluorocarboxylic acids were generally higher in effluent, compared to influent. Partitioning to solids within WWTPs increased with increasing fluoroalkyl chain length from 0.05 to 1.22 log units. Many PFAS were highly correlated, and PCA analysis showed strong associations between two groups: odd chained PFCAs, PFHxA and PFSAs; and 6:2 FTS with daily inflow volume and the proportion of trade waste accepted by WWTPs (as % of typical dry inflow). The compounds PFPeA, PFHxA, PFHpA, PFOA, PFNA, and PFDA increased significantly between influent and final effluent. The compounds 6:2 FTS and 8:2 FTS were quantified and F-53B detected and reported in Australian WWTP matrices. The compound 6:2 FTS was an important contributor to PFAS emissions in the studied Australian WWTPs, supporting the need for future research on its sources (including precursor degradation), environmental fate and impact in Australian aquatic environments receiving WWTP effluent.

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