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Environmental Source Tracking of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances within a Forensic Context: Current and Future Techniques



Alix Rodowa, Joseph A. Charbonnet, Jennifer L. Guelfo, Jennifer A. Field, Gerrad D. Jones, Christopher P. Higgins, Damian E. Helbling, Erika F. Houtz


The source tracking of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) is a new and increasingly important field within environmental forensics. We define PFAS source tracking as the accurate characterization and differentiation of multiple sources contributing to PFAS contamination in the environment. PFAS source tracking should employ analytical measurements, statistical tools, and an understanding of PFAS fate and transport within the framework of a conceptual site model. Converging lines of evidence used to differentiate PFAS sources include: identification of PFASs strongly associated with unique sources; the ratios of PFAS homologs, classes, and isomers at a contaminated site; and a site's hydrogeochemical conditions. As the field of PFAS source tracking progresses the development of new PFAS analytical standards based on PFAS components unique to sources and the wider availability of high-resolution mass spectral data will enhance currently available analytical capabilities. In addition, multivariate statistical tools, including unsupervised and supervised learning techniques, may lead to novel insights that define a targeted list of PFASs which are amenable for environmental PFAS source tracking. As targeted and non-targeted mass spectrometry tools enable greater confidence in the conclusions of environmental source tracking, sources could be defined specifically enough to allow for source apportionment.
Environmental Science and Technology


Rodowa, A. , Charbonnet, J. , Guelfo, J. , Field, J. , Jones, G. , Higgins, C. , Helbling, D. and Houtz, E. (2021), Environmental Source Tracking of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances within a Forensic Context: Current and Future Techniques, Environmental Science and Technology, [online], (Accessed May 25, 2024)


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Created May 13, 2021, Updated July 12, 2022