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Growing need to differentiate PFAS sources using forensic methods

The need to differentiate among sources of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment is growing quickly. Concern about potential health risks associated with low-level exposures to PFAS, along with their widespread common uses and reported detections in various media, are triggering requirements to investigate and clean up PFAS.  ToxStrategies’ consultants have broad experience with PFAS compounds and the available environmental forensic approaches to support source allocation and cost recovery.

At the federal level, the EPA is beginning the necessary steps to designate at least two PFAS (PFOA and PFOS) as “hazardous substances” through CERCLA Section 102. Such a designation could render potentially responsible parties liable for investigation and cleanup costs, individual and public drinking-water system filtration, health assessments, and possibly even natural resource damages. EPA is collecting data on PFAS environmental concentrations and sources. The EPA Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) is updating a list of uses by industry, and manufacturing and use sites. In addition, EPA is identifying potential sources of PFAS in surface waters. For example, EPA is collaborating with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) to evaluate PFAS concentrations and sources along the Ohio River.

Developments at the state level are also creating a need for PFAS source differentiation. New York has designated PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances, so the potential liability associated with cleanup already exists there. In May 2019, Wisconsin introduced legislation that would authorize Wisconsin DNR to add PFAS to the list of hazardous constituents under the state’s hazardous waste management law and enforce the state’s spill and cleanup law to remediate PFAS. New Hampshire is suing eight companies, claiming their manufacture and use of certain PFASs has damaged the environment and harmed residents.

In most cases, multiple PFAS sources are present and may contribute to the investigated media, making source identification and allocation essential components of any PFAS investigation. Environmental forensics offers the right tools for evaluating PFAS sources. These tools are well-established techniques with proven application in PFAS situations. Please contact Dr. Ioana Petrisor for more information, and view her presentation, “Source Evaluation for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances” from the 2019 West Coast Association for Environmental Health Sciences (AEHS) Conference: PFAS Forensics_mar2019(2).

ToxStrategies has expert capabilities with PFAS compounds and relevant forensic techniques that have been applied successfully in source evaluations, including chemical fingerprinting techniques such as:

  • Comprehensive chemical analysis for homologue groups, precursor compounds, and fluorotelomers
  • Evaluating branched vs. linear isomers
  • Chiral fingerprinting
  • Multivariate statistics — Receptor models

Forensic methods with potential applicability for PFAS source evaluation and/or age-dating include:

  • Signature chemicals
  • Isotopic fingerprinting
  • Atmospheric tracers
  • Tree-ring fingerprinting