Release of soil colloids during flow interruption increases the pore-water PFAS concentration in saturated soil

By Borthakur, Annesh, Brian K. Cranmer, Gregory P. Dooley, Jens Blotevogel, Shaily Mahendra, and Sanjay K. Mohanty
Env Poll
May 11, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2021.117297

Groundwater flow through aquifer soils or packed bed systems can fluctuate for various reasons, which could affect the concentration of natural colloids and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the pore water. In such cases, PFAS concentration could either decrease due to matrix diffusion of PFAS or increase by the detachment of colloids carrying PFAS. Yet, the effect of flow fluctuation on PFAS transport or release in porous media has not been examined. To examine the relative importance of either process, we interrupted the flow during an injection of groundwater spiked with perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and bromide as conservative tracer through clay-rich soil, so that diffusive transport would be prominent during flow interruption. After flow interruption, the PFAS concentration did not decrease indicating an insignificant contribution of matrix diffusion. The concentration increased, potentially due to enhanced release of colloid-associated PFAS. Analysis of samples before and after flow interruption by particle size analysis and SEM confirmed an increase in soil colloid concentration after the flow interruption. XRD analysis of soil and the colloids proved that PFAS were associated with specific sites of the colloids. Due to a higher affinity of PFOA to soil colloids, the total PFOA concentration in the effluent samples increased more than PFBA after the flow interruption process. The results indicate that colloids may have a disproportionally higher role in the transport of PFAS in conditions that release colloids from porous media. Thus, fluctuations in groundwater flow can increase this colloid facilitated mobility of PFAS.


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