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.
The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) is a novel partnership between regulatory agencies and the regulated community to provide the scientific foundation to manage water quality in the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas. The RMP monitors water quality, sediment quality and bioaccumulation of priority pollutants in fish, bivalves and birds. To improve monitoring measurements or the interpretation of data, the RMP also regularly funds special studies. The success of the RMP stems from collaborative governance, clear objectives, and long-term institutional and monetary commitments. Over the past 22 years, high quality data and special studies from the RMP have guided dozens of important decisions about Bay water quality management. Moreover, the governing structure and the collaborative nature of the RMP have created an environment that allowed it to stay relevant as new issues emerged. With diverse participation, a foundation in scientific principles and a continual commitment to adaptation, the RMP is a model water quality monitoring program. This paper describes the characteristics of the RMP that have allowed it to grow and adapt over two decades and some of the ways in which it has influenced water quality management decisions for this important ecosystem.
About this Update
The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) has been investigating contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) since 2001. CECs can be broadly defined as synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals that are not regulated or commonly monitored in the environment but have the potential to enter the environment and cause adverse ecological or human health impacts.
The RMP Emerging Contaminants Workgroup (ECWG), established in 2006, includes representatives from RMP stakeholder groups, regional scientists, and an advisory panel of expert researchers that work together to address the workgroup’s guiding management question – Which CECs have the potential to adversely impact beneficial uses in San Francisco Bay? The overarching goal of the ECWG is to develop cost-effective strategies to identify and monitor CECs to minimize impacts to the Bay.
To this end, the RMP published a CEC Strategy document in 2013 (Sutton et al. 2013). The strategy is a living document that guides RMP special studies on CECs, assuring continued focus on the issues of highest priority to the health of the Bay. A key focus of the strategy is a tiered risk and management action framework that guides future monitoring proposals. The strategy also features a multi-year plan indicating potential future research priorities.
This 2015 CEC strategy update features revised designations of CECs in the tiered risk and management action framework based on monitoring and research conducted since 2013. Brief summaries of relevant RMP findings are provided. In addition, a proposed multi-year plan for future RMP Special Studies on CECs is outlined. A full revision of the CEC strategy is anticipated in 2016.