Prevalence and Source Tracing of PFAS in Shallow Groundwater Used for Drinking Water in Wisconsin, USA

By Matthew Silver, William Phelps, Kevin Masarik, Kyle Burke, Chen Zhang, Alex Schwartz, Miaoyan Wang, Amy L Nitka, Jordan Schutz, Tom Trainor, John W Washington, and Bruce D Rheineck
Environ Sci Technol
November 2, 2023
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.3c02826

Samples from 450 homes with shallow private wells throughout the state of Wisconsin (USA) were collected and analyzed for 44 individual per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), general water quality parameters, and indicators of human waste as well as agricultural influence. At least one PFAS was detected in 71% of the study samples, and 22 of the 44 PFAS analytes were detected in one or more samples. Levels of PFOA and/or PFOS exceeded the proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels of 4 ng/L, put forward by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2023, in 17 of the 450 samples, with two additional samples containing PFHxS ≳ 9 ng/L (the EPA-proposed hazard index reference value). Those samples above the referenced PFAS levels tend to be associated with developed land and human waste indicators (artificial sweeteners and pharmaceuticals), which can be released to groundwater via septic systems. For a few samples with levels of PFOA, PFOS, and/or PFHxS > 40 ng/L, application of wastes to agricultural land is a possible source. Overall, the study suggests that human waste sources, septic systems in particular, are important sources of perfluoroalkyl acids, especially ones with ≤8 perfluorinated carbons, in shallow groundwater.

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