PFAS and Dissolved Organic Carbon Enrichment in Surface Water Foams on a Northern U.S. Freshwater Lake

November 8, 2020 - Trever Schwichtenberg, Dorin Bogdan, <>, Patrick Reardon, Justin Rewerts, Thomas Wanzek, and Jennifer A. Field

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Information is needed on the concentration of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in foams on surface waters impacted by aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF). Nine pairs of foam and underlying bulk water were collected from a single freshwater lake impacted by PFAS and analyzed for PFAS by liquid chromatography quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LC-QToF) and for dissolved organic carbon (DOC). The DOC of two foam:bulk water pairs was characterized by 1H NMR. Foams were comprised of 16 PFAS with concentrations as high as 97 000 ng/L (PFOS) along with longer-chain, more hydrophobic PFAS. Only five PFAS (PFOS and shorter chain lengths) were quantified in underlying bulk waters. Enrichment factors (foam:bulk water) ranged from 10 (PFHxA) up to 2830 (PFOS). Foams impacted by AFFF gave the greatest concentrations and number of PFAS classes with PFOS concentrations exceeding the EPA health advisory level (70 ng/L). PFAS concentrations were significantly below published critical micelle concentrations and constituted <0.1% of overall DOC concentrations in foam, indicating that PFAS are a minor fraction of DOC and that DOC likely plays a central role in foam formation. Estimates indicate that foam ingestion is a potentially important route of exposure for children and adults when they are in surface waters where foam is present.


Schwichtenberg T, Bogdan D, Carignan CC, Reardon P, Rewerts J, Wanzek T, Field JA. PFAS and dissolved organic carbon enrichment in surface water foams on a Northern U.S. freshwater lake. Environ Sci Technol. 2020 Nov; 54(22)14455-14464. PMID 33164508.


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