Manufacturing origin of perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) in Atlantic and Canadian Arctic seawater

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The extent to which different manufacturing sources and long-range transport pathways contribute to perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) in the world's oceans, particularly in remote locations, is widely debated. Here, the relative contribution of historic (i.e., electrochemically fluorinated) and contemporary (i.e., telomer) manufacturing sources was assessed for PFOA in various seawater samples by an established isomer profiling technique. The ratios of individual branched PFOA isomers were indistinguishable from those in authentic historic standards in 93% of the samples examined, indicating that marine processes had little influence on isomer profiles, and that isomer profiling is a valid source apportionment tool for seawater. Eastern Atlantic PFOA was largely (83-98%) of historic origin, but this decreased to only 33% close to the Eastern U.S. seaboard. Similarly, PFOA in the Norwegian Sea was near exclusively historic, but the relative contribution decreased to ∼50% near the Baltic Sea. Such observations of contemporary PFOA in coastal source regions coincided with elevated concentrations, suggesting that the continued production and use of PFOA is currently adding to the marine burden of this contaminant. In the Arctic, a spatial trend was observed whereby PFOA in seawater originating from the Atlantic was predominantly historic (up to 99%), whereas water in the Archipelago (i.e., from the Pacific) was predominantly of contemporary origin (as little as 17% historic). These data help to explain reported temporal and spatial trends from Arctic wildlife biomonitoring, and suggest that the dominant PFOA source(s) to the Pacific and Canadian Arctic Archipelago are either (a) from direct emissions of contemporary PFOA via manufacturing or use in Asia, or (b) from atmospheric transport and oxidation of contemporary PFOA-precursors. © 2011 American Chemical Society.

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Environmental Science and Technology