Development of a Low-Cost, Rapid Screening Method to Measure Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Groundwater

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Graham Peaslee and Dr. Paul DeYoung

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Because of the environmental persistence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), their ability to bioaccumulate, and their suspected human toxicity, new methods to identify these chemicals at trace levels in groundwater are needed. Particle induced gamma-ray emission (PIGE) spectroscopy is an established ion beam analysis technique that has been used to quantitatively measure light elements in diverse target materials. PIGE utilizes a beam of accelerated protons to excite 19F nuclei on the surface of a target. As these nuclei return to their ground state, they emit characteristic gamma-rays that can be used to quantify the total fluorine concentrations in a sample. An in-air PIGE method has been developed and is shown to be an effective tool to determine the presence or absence of PFASs extracted from groundwater samples. Solutions of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) were extracted onto the surface of a weak anion exchange solid-phase extraction (SPE) column, and the total fluorine measured on this column by PIGE correlates well with the initial PFOA concentrations. Subsequent experiments with actual groundwater samples demonstrate PIGE to be an inexpensive, rapid, and non-destructive method for total fluorine analysis, which can be adapted to detect environmentally relevant PFASs concentrations in groundwater.


This work is made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF-RUI 1306074), the Department of Energy (DE-SC0007352), and the Hope College Department of Physics Guess Research Fund.

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