Per-and Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS) Cycling within Michigan: Contaminated Sites, Landfills and Wastewater Treatment Plants

By Ross W. Helmer, Donald M. Reeves, and Daniel P. Cassidy
Water Research
January 4, 2022
DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2021.117983

Concentrations of Per- and Polyfluorinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS) from public and private sources in Michigan compiled for wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) (influent, effluent, biosolids), contaminated sites, and landfill leachates reveal complex cycling within the natural and engineered environment. Analysis of 171 contaminated sites in Michigan by source release indicate four dominant PFAS sources – landfills, aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF), metal platers, and automotive/metal stamping – account for 75% of the contamination. Diverse chemical signatures were observed for leachates collected from 19 landfills (mostly type II municipal) with the dominant PFAS ranging from perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) to shorter-chained compounds, perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA), and perfluorobutanesulfonic acid (PFBS). Analysis of PFAS carbon chain length as a function of landfill age shows the transition of C8s in leachate from older landfills to C4s and C6s in younger landfills, consistent with the phasing out and replacement of C8s. PFAS mass flux in leachate for landfills studied range between 5 – 2,000 g/yr and are highest for active landfills, which generate greater leachate volumes and contain fresh PFAS wastes. Detailed study of 10 WWTPs with industrial pretreatment programs indicate numerous chemical transformations across the plants that yield effluent PFAS concentrations as much as 19 times greater than influent, attributed to transformations of unmeasured precursors in the influent to measured, stable PFAS in the effluent. PFOA, PFHxA, perfluoropentanoic acid (PFPeA), PFBA, and PFBS show the greatest increases across the plant ranging from 20% to nearly 2,000%. PFOS concentrations decreased across 6 WWTPs, consistent with a strong tendency to adsorb onto biosolids. Estimated mass of discharge of (mostly unregulated) PFAS from WWTPs to receiving waters range from 40 g/yr to 128 kg/yr.


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