Nontargeted mass-spectral detection of chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates in New Jersey soils

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Science  05 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6495, pp. 1103-1107
DOI: 10.1126/science.aba7127

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Perfluorocarbons' path into soils

Covering carbon chains with fluorines has produced a variety of useful nonstick coatings. However, growing concern about the toxicity and extraordinary environmental persistence of the underlying compounds is spurring a search for alternatives. The precise structure of these next-generation alternatives often remains a trade secret. Washington et al. sampled soils in New Jersey and then used mass spectrometry to assign plausible structures—incorporating chlorine and ether segments into the CF2 chain—to compounds that appear to have emanated from their manufacture (see the Policy Forum by Gold and Wagner). The data can inform in-depth studies of these compounds' environmental transport and persistence.

Science, this issue p. 1103; see also p. 1066


The toxicity and environmental persistence of anthropogenic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are of global concern. To address legacy PFAS concerns in the United States, industry developed numerous replacement PFAS that commonly are treated as confidential information. To investigate the distribution of PFAS in New Jersey, soils collected from across the state were subjected to nontargeted mass-spectral analyses. Ten chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates were tentatively identified, with at least three congeners in all samples. Nine congeners are ≥(CF2)7. Distinct chemical formulas and structures, as well as geographic distribution, suggest airborne transport from an industrial source. Lighter congeners dispersed more widely than heavier congeners, with the most widely dispersed detected in an in-stock New Hampshire sample. Additional data were used to develop a legacy-PFAS fingerprint for historical PFAS sources in New Jersey.

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