Increased levels of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) during Hurricane Dorian on the east coast of Florida
By Brian Martinez, Bianca F Da Silva, Juan J Aristizabal-Henao, Nancy D Denslow, Todd Z Osborne, Elise S Morrison, Thomas S Bianchi, and John A Bowden
January 10, 2022
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of synthetic chemicals commonly found in everyday consumer products and are an emerging concern due to their ubiquitous presence in ecosystems around the world. PFAS exposure, which often occurs through contaminated water, has been linked to several adverse health effects in humans and wildlife. PFAS can be transported in surface water and storm runoff in the nearshore environment. Episodic events, such as hurricanes, are projected to increase in frequency and intensity, and a critical unanswered question is: how do episodic events influence the concentrations and distributions of emerging contaminants, such as PFAS, in coastal systems? Here, we investigated the impact of the 2019 Hurricane Dorian on the Florida coast to assess how natural disasters, such as hurricanes, influence the fate and transport of PFAS in surface water. Water samples collected throughout the St. Augustine Intracoastal waterway before, during, and after the storm were analyzed and compared with baseline concentrations. Ultra-high-pressure liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry (UHPLC-MS/MS) was used in the detection and quantification of 23 and 17 PFAS, respectively. Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) was the compound with the highest concentration across all sampling sites. Mean PFOS levels showed the highest increase of 177% during the hurricane and returned to baseline levels after two days. Our findings highlight the need for continued research focused on understanding how large storms near all coastlines can impact the transport of environmental pollutants, such as PFOS, that can have adverse effects on human and environmental health. Further monitoring of PFAS in coastal systems is necessary to identify potential PFAS hotspots, investigate the impacts of episodic events on PFAS transport, develop mitigation practices capable of reducing the risk of PFAS exposure.