Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) adsorption in drinking water by granular activated carbon: Influence of activated carbon and PFAS characteristics

By Beatrice Cantoni, Andrea Turolla, Jörg Wellmitz, Aki S Ruhl, and Manuela Antonelli
Sci Total Environ
July 20, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148821

Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) persistence in the environment leads to their presence in drinking water, that is of high concern due to their potential human health risk. Adsorption onto activated carbon (AC) has been identified as an effective technique to remove PFAS. Adsorption isotherms and breakthrough curves, determined by rapid small-scale column tests (RSSCTs), were studied for eight PFAS and four granular ACs, characterized by different origins, porosities and numbers of reactivation cycles. Both batch and RSSCT results highlighted the strong interaction of AC and PFAS characteristics in adsorption capacity. The most important factor affecting AC performance is the surface charge: a positively-charged AC showed higher adsorption capacities with greater Freundlich constants (K) and later 50% breakthroughs compared to the AC with neutral surface. Among the positively-charged ACs, a microporous AC demonstrated higher adsorption capacities for hydrophilic and marginally hydrophobic PFAS, while the mesoporous AC performed better for more hydrophobic PFAS, possibly due to lower pore blockage by organic matter. These results were confirmed at full-scale through a one-year monitoring campaign, in which samples were collected at the inlets and outlets of GAC systems in 17 drinking water treatment plants spread in a wide urban area, where the four analyzed ACs are used.

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