Contribution of precursor compounds to the release of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) from waste water treatment plants (WWTPs)

Ulrika Eriksson , Peter Haglund , Anna Kärrman


Received September 16, 2016,Revised April 29, 2017, Accepted May 02, 2017, Available online May 10, 2017

Volume 29,2017,Pages 80-90

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are ubiquitous in sludge and water from waste water treatment plants, as a result of their incorporation in everyday products and industrial processes. In this study, we measured several classes of persistent PFASs, precursors, transformation intermediates, and newly identified PFASs in influent and effluent sewage water and sludge from three municipal waste water treatment plants in Sweden, sampled in 2015. For sludge, samples from 2012 and 2014 were analyzed as well. Levels of precursors in sludge exceeded those of perfluoroalkyl acids and sulfonic acids (PFCAs and PFSAs), in 2015 the sum of polyfluoroalkyl phosphoric acid esters (PAPs) were 15–20 ng/g dry weight, the sum of fluorotelomer sulfonic acids (FTSAs) was 0.8–1.3 ng/g, and the sum of perfluorooctane sulfonamides and ethanols ranged from non-detected to 3.2 ng/g. Persistent PFSAs and PFCAs were detected at 1.9–3.9 ng/g and 2.4–7.3 ng/g dry weight, respectively. The influence of precursor compounds was further demonstrated by an observed substantial increase for a majority of the persistent PFCAs and PFSAs in water after waste water treatment. Perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) had a net mass increase in all WWTPs, with mean values of 83%, 28%, 37% and 58%, respectively. The load of precursors and intermediates in influent water and sludge combined with net mass increase support the hypothesis that degradation of precursor compounds is a significant contributor to PFAS contamination in the environment.

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