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Determining global background soil PFAS loads and the fluorotelomer-based polymer degradation rates that can account for these loads

Washington, John W., Rankin, Keegan, Libelo, E. Laurence, Lynch, David G., Cyterski, Mike
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.651 pp. 2444-2449
emissions, half life, industry, models, perfluorocarbons, perfluorooctanoic acid, polymers, soil, toxicity
In recent years, fluorotelomer-based polymers (FTPs) have been the dominant product of the fluorotelomer industry. For the last decade, whether FTPs degrade to toxic perfluorocarboxylates (PFCAs) has been vigorously contested, with early studies arguing that FTPs have half-lives >1000 years, and others concluding decadal half-lives. Given this FTP half-life discrepancy of 10- to >100-fold, here we investigate whether environmental loads of long-chain PFCAs might offer an independent approach to assess FTP half-lives. Specifically we: i) use surface soil-PFCA data to estimate terrestrial surface-soil background PFCA concentrations and loads; ii) extrapolate these data to generate global PFCA load estimates; iii) compare these estimates to published ocean-derived and industrial-emissions load estimates, finding agreement for perfluorooctanoate (C8), but an excess in longer-chain (C10,C12) PFCAs for ocean- and soil-derived loads relative to emissions; iv) model FTP degradation rates required to reconcile this discrepancy; and iv) compare our modeled estimates to existing experimental results. These findings show agreement for FTP half-lives at the decades-scale supporting existing laboratory studies that report decade-scale half-lives for FTPs. This suggests that global long-chain PFCA loads will increase for decades if legacy FTPs already manufactured are not contained upon disposal. These results suggest that FTPs comprised of novel poly- and perfluorinated alkyl substances (PFASs) now in production might constitute considerable sources to the environment of the new generation of PFASs.