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Drinking water supplies across the United States have been contaminated by firefighting and fire-training activities that use aqueous film-forming foams (AFFF) containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Much of the AFFF is manufactured using electrochemical fluorination by 3M. Precursors with six perfluorinated carbons (C6) and non-fluorinated amine substituents make up approximately one-third of the PFAS in 3M AFFF. C6 precursors can be transformed through nitrification (microbial oxidation) of amine moieties into perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), a compound of regulatory concern. Here, we report biotransformation of the most abundant C6 sulfonamido precursors in 3M AFFF with available commercial standards (FHxSA, PFHxSAm, and PFHxSAmS) in microcosms representative of the groundwater/surface water boundary. Results show rapid (<1 day) biosorption to living cells by precursors but slow biotransformation into PFHxS (1–100 pM day–1). The transformation pathway includes one or two nitrification steps and is supported by the detection of key intermediates using high-resolution mass spectrometry. Increasing nitrate concentrations and total abundance of nitrifying taxa occur in parallel with precursor biotransformation. Together, these data provide multiple lines of evidence supporting microbially limited biotransformation of C6 sulfonamido precursors involving ammonia-oxidizing archaea (Nitrososphaeria) and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (Nitrospina). Further elucidation of interrelationships between precursor biotransformation and nitrogen cycling in ecosystems would help inform site remediation efforts.

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Environmental Science & Technology

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Creative Commons License
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