High-Resolution Depth-Discrete Analysis of PFAS Distribution and Leaching for a Vadose-Zone Source at an AFFF-Impacted Site

Matthew C. Bigler, Mark L. Brusseau, Bo Guo, Sara L. Jones, J. Conrad Pritchard, Christopher P. Higgins, James Hatton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The long-term leaching of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) within the vadose zone of an AFFF application site for which the depth to groundwater is approximately 100 m was investigated by characterizing the vertical distribution of PFAS in a high spatial resolution. The great majority (99%) of PFAS mass resides in the upper 3 m of the vadose zone. The depths to which each PFAS migrated, quantified by moment analysis, is an inverse function of molar volume, demonstrating chromatographic separation. The PFAS were operationally categorized into three chain-length groups based on the three general patterns of retention observed. The longest-chain (>∼335 cm3/mol molar volume) PFAS remained within the uppermost section of the core, exhibiting minimal leaching. Conversely, the shortest-chain (<∼220 cm3/mol) PFAS accumulated at the bottom of the interval, which coincides with the onset of a calcic horizon. PFAS with intermediate-chain lengths were distributed along the length of the core, exhibiting differential magnitudes of leaching. The minimal or differential leaching observed for the longest- and intermediate-chain-length PFAS, respectively, demonstrates that retention processes significantly impacted migration. The accumulation of shorter-chain PFAS at the bottom of the core is hypothesized to result from limited deep infiltration and potential-enhanced retention associated with the calcic horizon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9863-9874
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Jun 4 2024


  • PFOA
  • PFOS
  • adsorption
  • leaching
  • retention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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