PFAS concentrations in soils: Background levels versus contaminated sites

Mark L. Brusseau, R. Hunter Anderson, Bo Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are contaminants of critical concern due to their persistence, widespread distribution in the environment, and potential human-health impacts. In this work, published studies of PFAS concentrations in soils were compiled from the literature. These data were combined with results obtained from a large curated database of PFAS soil concentrations for contaminated sites. In aggregate, the compiled data set comprises >30,000 samples collected from >2500 sites distributed throughout the world. Data were collected for three types of sites— background sites, primary-source sites (fire-training areas, manufacturing plants), and secondary-source sites (biosolids application, irrigation water use). The aggregated soil-survey reports comprise samples collected from all continents, and from a large variety of locations in both urban and rural regions. PFAS were present in soil at almost every site tested. Low but measurable concentrations were observed even in remote regions far from potential PFOS sources. Concentrations reported for PFAS-contaminated sites were generally orders-of-magnitude greater than background levels, particularly for PFOS. Maximum reported PFOS concentrations ranged upwards of several hundred mg/kg. Analysis of depth profiles indicates significant retention of PFAS in the vadose zone over decadal timeframes and the occurrence of leaching to groundwater. It is noteworthy that soil concentrations reported for PFAS at contaminated sites are often orders-of-magnitude higher than typical groundwater concentrations. The results of this study demonstrate that PFAS are present in soils across the globe, and indicate that soil is a significant reservoir for PFAS. A critical question of concern is the long-term migration potential to surface water, groundwater, and the atmosphere. This warrants increased focus on the transport and fate behavior of PFAS in soil and the vadose zone, in regards to both research and site investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number140017
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Oct 20 2020


  • AFFF
  • PFOA
  • PFOS
  • Sources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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