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A field study to assess the role of air-water interfacial sorption on PFAS leaching in an AFFF source area.

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Field-deployed lysimeters were used to measure the concentrations of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in soil porewater at a site historically impacted with aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). Samples collected over a 49-day period showed that perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) were the PFASs with the highest concentrations in porewater, with concentrations of approximately 10,000 and 25,000 ng L-1, respectively. The corresponding average mass flux to underlying groundwater observed for PFOS and PFHxS was 28,000 ± 11,000 and 92,000 ± 32,000 ng m-2 d-1, respectively. Employing the use of batch desorption isotherms (soil:water slurries) to determine desorption Kd values resulted in an overestimation of PFAS porewater concentrations by a factor for 1.4 to 4. However, using the desorption Kd values from the batch desorption isotherms in combination with a PFAS mass balance that incorporated PFAS sorption at the air-water interface resulted in improved predictions of the PFAS porewater concentrations. This improvement was most notable for PFOS, where inclusion of air-water interfacial sorption resulted in a 58% reduction in the predicted PFOS porewater concentration and predicted PFOS porewater concentrations that were identical (within the 95% confidence interval) to the lysimeter measured PFOS porewater concentration. Overall these results highlight the potentially important role of air-water interfacial sorption on PFAS migration in AFFF-impacted unsaturated soils in an in situ field setting.

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