Global distributions, source-type dependencies, and concentration ranges of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in groundwater

Gwynn R. Johnson, Mark L. Brusseau, Kenneth C. Carroll, Geoffrey R. Tick, Candice M. Duncan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


A meta-analysis was conducted of published literature reporting concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in groundwater for sites distributed in 20 countries across the globe. Data for >35 PFAS were aggregated from 96 reports published from 1999 to 2021. The final data set comprises approximately 21,000 data points after removal of time-series and duplicate samples as well as non-detects. The reported concentrations range over many orders of magnitude, from ng/L to mg/L levels. Distinct differences in concentration ranges are observed between sites located within or near sources versus those that are not. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), ranging from <0.03 ng/L to ~7 mg/L, and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), ranging from 0.01 ng/L to ~5 mg/L, were the two most reported PFAS. The highest PFAS concentration in groundwater is ~15 mg/L reported for the replacement-PFAS 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonate (6:2 FTS). Maximum reported groundwater concentrations for PFOA and PFOS were compared to concentrations reported for soils, surface waters, marine waters, and precipitation. Soil concentrations are generally significantly higher than those reported for the other media. This accrues to soil being the primary entry point for PFAS release into the environment for many sites, as well as the generally significantly greater retention capacity of soil compared to the other media. The presence of PFAS has been reported for all media in all regions tested, including areas that are far removed from specific PFAS sources. This gives rise to the existence of a “background” concentration of PFAS that must be accounted for in both regional and site-specific risk assessments. The presence of this background is a reflection of the large-scale use of PFAS, their general recalcitrance, and the action of long-range transport processes that distribute PFAS across regional and global scales. This ubiquitous distribution has the potential to significantly impact the quality and availability of water resources in many regions. In addition, the pervasive presence of PFAS in the environment engenders concerns for impacts to ecosystem and human health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number156602
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Oct 1 2022


  • PFAS
  • PFOA
  • PFOS
  • Soil pollution
  • Water pollution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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