Bioaccumulation of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in Ferns: Effect of PFAS Molecular Structure and Plant Root Characteristics

By Shenhua Qian, Hongying Lu, Tiantian Xiong, Yue Zhi, Gabriel Munoz, Chuhui Zhang, Zhengwei Li, Caihong Liu, Wei Li, Xiaoming Wang, and Qiang He
Environ Sci Technol
February 27, 2023
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c06883

The present study assessed the bioaccumulation potential of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in ferns and linked root uptake behaviors to root characteristics and PFAS molecular structure. Tissue and subcellular-level behavioral differences between alternative and legacy PFAS were compared via an electron probe microanalyzer with energy dispersive spectroscopy (EPMA-EDS) and differential centrifugation. Our results show that ferns can accumulate PFAS from water, immobilize them in roots, and store them in harvestable tissue. The PFAS loading in roots was dominated by PFOS; however, a substantial amount of associated PFOS could be rinsed off by methanol. Correlation analyses indicated that root length, surface and project area, surface area per unit length of the root system, and molecular size and hydrophobicity of PFAS were the most significant factors affecting the magnitude of root uptake and upward translocation. EPMA-EDS images together with exposure experiments suggested that long-chain hydrophobic compounds tend to be adsorbed and retained on the root epidermis, while short-chain compounds are absorbed and quickly translocated upward. Our findings demonstrated the feasibility of using ferns in phytostabilization and phytoextraction initiatives of PFAS in the future.

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