PFAS contamination may be much more widespread than previously known 2022-10-12

A new model indicates sources of PFAS “forever chemicals” may be much more widespread than usually thought.

[Presumptive Contamination Sites (n=57,412), Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2022, 9, 11, 983-990]
Presumptive Contamination Sites (n=57,412), Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2022, 9, 11, 983-990

That model was published while Waterkeeper Alliance was working up the report on the nationwide PFAS sampling, including the Suwannee Riverkeeper results on the Withlacoochee River in Georgia and Florida.

Presumptive Contamination: A New Approach to PFAS Contamination Based on Likely Sources, Derrick Salvatore, Kira Mok, Kimberly K. Garrett, Grace Poudrier, Phil Brown, Linda S. Birnbaum, Gretta Goldenman, Mark F. Miller, Sharyle Patton, Maddy Poehlein, Julia Varshavsky, and Alissa Cordner, Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett. 2022, 9, 11, 983-990.


While research and regulatory attention to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has increased exponentially in recent years, data are uneven and incomplete about the scale, scope, and severity of PFAS releases and resulting contamination in the United States. This paper argues that in the absence of high-quality testing data, PFAS contamination can be presumed around three types of facilities: (1) fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) discharge sites, (2) certain industrial facilities, and (3) sites related to PFAS-containing waste. While data are incomplete on all three types of presumptive PFAS contamination sites, we integrate available geocoded, nationwide data sets into a single map of presumptive contamination sites in the United States, identifying 57,412 sites of presumptive PFAS contamination: 49,145 industrial facilities, 4,255 wastewater treatment plants, 3,493 current or former military sites, and 519 major airports. This conceptual approach allows governments, industries, and communities to rapidly and systematically identify potential exposure sources.

Why should we care?

PFAS contamination may increase exposure for proximate populations. By developing the concept of presumptive contamination and validating that model against known contamination sites, this paper provides a rigorous advancement to previous academic and regulatory models using NAICS codes alone or in limited geographic areas. This standardized methodology allows researchers, regulators, and other decision-makers at various geographic scales to identify presumptive PFAS contamination using publicly available data, addressing several “urgent questions” described by leading PFAS scholars, including the identification of PFAS contamination hotspots and the need for accessible PFAS measurement tools.

[Figure 11: bigger circles indicate more contamination]
Figure 11: bigger circles indicate more contamination in results of nationwide Waterkeeper Alliance PFAS testing.

This would help:

While all data described in this analysis are publicly available, other PFAS data are hard to utilize, inaccessible to the public, or not nationally aggregated. We recommend that federal and state agencies develop, aggregate, and broadly disseminate information on the many sources of presumptive PFAS contamination identified in this paper. Planned nationwide testing for PFAS in public drinking water sources (68) will exclude the 43 million U.S. residents who rely on private wells. (69) States can use PFAS-specific task forces and investigative orders to identify contamination and target action using our presumptive contamination categories. Surveys to facilities identified by NAICS codes could investigate PFAS use and inform further testing and action. When nationwide data sets do not exist, local and/or state data on permits, industrial activity, and application sites could be aggregated.

WWALS has previously asked: Report chemical constituents for forensic PFAS source identification –WWALS to U.S. EPA 2021-09-27.

[Map, Letter]
Map, Letter

Thanks to WWALS Science Committee Chair Dr. Tom Potter for finding this article, for participating in the Suwannee Riverkeeper PFAS sampling, and for co-authoring that previous request letter.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!

One thought on “PFAS contamination may be much more widespread than previously known 2022-10-12

  1. Pingback: Forever chemicals contaminate Withlacoochee River in Georgia and Florida 2022-10-18 | WWALS Watershed Coalition (WWALS) is Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

Comments are closed.