Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in Pennsylvania surface waters: A statewide assessment, associated sources, and land-use relations

By Sara E Breitmeyer, Amy M Williams, Joseph W Duris, Lee W Eicholtz, Dustin R Shull, Timothy A Wertz, and Emily E Woodward
Sci Total Environ
May 15, 2023
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.164161

The objectives of this study are to identify per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in Pennsylvania surface waters, corresponding associations with potential sources of PFAS contamination (PSOC) and other parameters, and compare raw surface water concentrations to human and ecological benchmarks. Surface water samples from 161 streams were collected in September 2019 and were analyzed for 33 target PFAS and water chemistry. Land use and physical attributes in upstream catchments and geospatial counts of PSOC in local catchments are summarized. The hydrologic yield of the sum of 33 PFAS (∑PFAS) for each stream was computed by normalizing each site's load by the drainage area of the upstream catchment. Utilizing conditional inference tree analysis, the percentage of development (>7.58 %) was identified as a primary driver of the ∑PFAS hydrologic yields. When percentage of development was removed from analysis, ∑PFAS yields were closely related to surface water chemistry associated with landscape alteration (e.g., development or agricultural cropland), such as concentrations of total nitrogen, chloride, and ammonia, but also to count of water pollution control facilities (agricultural, industrial, stormwater, and/or municipal waste pollution abatement facilities). In oil and gas development regions, ∑PFAS yields were associated with combined sewage outfalls. Sites surrounded by ≥2 electronic manufacturing facilities had elevated ∑PFAS yields (median = 241 ng/s/km). Study results are critical to guide future research, regulatory policy, best practices that will mitigate PFAS contamination, and the communication of human health and ecological risks associated with PFAS exposure from surface waters.

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