Enhanced Extraction of AFFF-Associated PFASs from Source Zone Soils

Authors: A. Nickerson, A. Maizel, P. Kulkarni, D. Adamson, J. Kornuc, C. Higgins
Published: March 2020 in Environmental Science and Technology.


Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) derived from aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) are increasingly recognized as groundwater contaminants, though the composition and distribution of AFFF-derived PFASs associated with soils and subsurface sediments remain largely unknown. This is particularly true for zwitterionic and cationic PFASs, which may be incompletely extracted from subsurface solids by analytical methods developed for anionic PFASs. Therefore, a method involving sequential basic and acidic methanol extractions was developed and evaluated for recovery of anionic, cationic, and zwitterionic PFASs from field-collected, AFFF-impacted soils. The method was validated by spike-recovery experiments with equilibrated soil-water-AFFF and analytical standards. To determine the relative importance of PFASs lacking commercially available analytical standards, their concentrations were estimated by a novel semiquantitation approach. Total PFAS concentrations determined by semiquantitation were compared with concentrations determined by the total oxidizable precursor assay. Finally, the described method was applied to two soil cores from former fire-training areas in which cations and zwitterions were found to contribute up to 97% of the total PFAS mass. This result demonstrates the need for extraction and analysis methods, such as the ones presented here, that are capable of quantifying cationic and zwitterionic PFASs in AFFF-impacted source zone soils.