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Using wastewater monitoring to assess exposure to PFAS

Per-and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) are known for their water- and grease-resistant properties, which make them useful in many everyday items. In fact, a study from 2020 estimated over 200 “use categories” covering more than 1,400 individual PFAS compounds in commercial products—they are truly all around us. Due to their extensive presence and potentially harmful effects (these effects are still mostly uncertain), exposure to PFAS is a growing concern. Humans and wildlife have been exposed to these chemicals through a variety of routes, including food packaging, drinking water and cleaning products.

Telling the PFAS story with pine needles

As an ever-expanding group of chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) require novel techniques to monitor their current and historical presence in the environment. Concerns over exposure to PFAS chemicals continue to grow, with some having known toxic characteristics and the potential effects of others remaining unknown.1 In addition, while PFAS are one of the most persistent synthetic chemicals to date, most of them hardly degrade in the environment.2 So, how long do traces of PFAS last in our environment? Two tools used to help answer this question are active samplers and passive samplers.

The hidden ingredient in anti-fog sprays: PFAS

A recent study led by researchers from Duke University, conducted with colleagues from Wayne State University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, found that four of the top-rated anti-fog sprays contained up to 20.7 milligrams of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) per milliliter of solution. This study has received a lot of exposure in popular media, and it should not be overlooked. The researchers used several creative approaches to obtain a comprehensive characterization of the anti-fog sprays, including using total organic fluorine measurements, GC-MS methods and both nominal mass and accurate mass instruments. A unique finding of the study was the detection of fluorotelomer ethoxylates (FTEOs), which are relatively unknown PFAS compounds.

PFAS testing: solid phase extraction vs. direct injection methods

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Defense (DoD) methods for testing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water require using solid phase extraction (SPE). SPE has been used extensively in environmental contaminant analysis both for concentrating large sample volumes (improving method sensitivity) and removing matrix interferences (sample cleanup).<