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Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances in wastewater: Significance of unknown precursors, manufacturing shifts, and likely AFFF impacts. Water Research . SFEI Contribution No. 780.2016.
In late 2014, wastewater effluent samples were collected from eight treatment plants that discharge to San Francisco (SF) Bay in order to assess poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) currently released from municipal and industrial sources. In addition to direct measurement of twenty specific PFAS analytes, the total concentration of perfluoroalkyl acid (PFAA) precursors was also indirectly measured by adapting a previously developed oxidation assay. Effluent from six municipal treatment plants contained similar amounts of total PFASs, with highest median concentrations of PFHxA (24 ng/L), followed by PFOA (23 ng/L), PFBA (19 ng/L), and PFOS (15 ng/L). Compared to SF Bay municipal wastewater samples collected in 2009, the short chain perfluorinated carboxylates PFBA and PFHxA rose significantly in concentration. Effluent samples from two treatment plants contained much higher levels of PFASs: over two samplings, wastewater from one municipal plant contained an average of 420 ng/L PFOS and wastewater from an airport industrial treatment plant contained 560 ng/L PFOS, 390 ng/L 6:2 FtS, 570 ng/L PFPeA, and 500 ng/L PFHxA. The elevated levels observed in effluent samples from these two plants are likely related to aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) sources impacting their influent; PFASs attributable to both current use and discontinued AFFF formulations were observed. Indirectly measured PFAA precursor compounds accounted for 33%–63% of the total molar concentration of PFASs across all effluent samples and the PFAA precursors indicated by the oxidation assay were predominately short-chained. PFAS levels in SF Bay effluent samples reflect the manufacturing shifts towards shorter chained PFASs while also demonstrating significant impacts from localized usage of AFFF.