PFOS dominates PFAS composition in ambient fine particulate matter (PM) collected across North Carolina nearly 20 years after the end of its US production

By J Zhou, K Baumann, R N Mead, S A Skrabal, R J Kieber, G B Avery, M Shimizu, J C DeWitt, M Sun, S A Vance, W Bodnar, Z Zhang, L B Collins, J D Surratt, and B J Turpin
Environ Sci Process Impacts
March 22, 2021
DOI: 10.1039/d0em00497a

Contamination of drinking water by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) emitted from manufacturing plants, fire-fighting foams, and urban waste streams has received considerable attention due to concerns over toxicity and environmental persistence; however, PFASs in ambient air remain poorly understood, especially in the United States (US). We measured PFAS concentrations in ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) at 5 locations across North Carolina over a 1 year period in 2019. Thirty-four PFASs, including perfluoroalkyl carboxylic, perfluoroalkane sulfonic, perfluoroalkyl ether carboxylic and sulfonic acids were analyzed by UHPLC/ESI-MS/MS. Quarterly averaged concentrations ranged from <0.004-14.1 pg m-3. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) ranged from <0.18 to 14.1 pg m-3, comparable to previous PM2.5 measurements from Canada and Europe (<0.02-3.5 pg m-3). Concentrations above 1 pg m-3 were observed in July-September at Charlotte (14.1 pg m-3, PFOA), Wilmington (4.75 pg m-3, PFOS), and Research Triangle Park (1.37 pg m-3, PFOS). Notably, PM2.5 has a short atmospheric lifetime (<2 weeks), and thus, the presence of PFOS in these samples raises questions about their sources, since PFOS production was phased out in the US ∼20 years ago. This is the first US study to provide insights into ambient PFAS concentrations in PM2.5.

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