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Aqueous film-forming foams historically were used during fire training activities on Joint Base Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and created an extensive per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) groundwater contamination plume. The potential for PFAS bioconcentration from exposure to the contaminated groundwater, which discharges to surface water bodies, was assessed with mobile-laboratory experiments using groundwater from the contamination plume and a nearby reference location. The on-site continuous-flow 21-day exposures used male and female fathead minnows, freshwater mussels, polar organic chemical integrative samplers (POCIS), and polyethylene tube samplers (PETS) to evaluate biotic and abiotic uptake. The composition of the PFAS-contaminated groundwater was complex and 9 PFAS were detected in the reference groundwater and 17 PFAS were detected in the contaminated groundwater. The summed PFAS concentrations ranged from 120 to 140 ng L–1 in reference groundwater and 6100 to 15,000 ng L–1 in contaminated groundwater. Biotic concentration factors (CFb) for individual PFAS were species, sex, source, and compound-specific and ranged from 2.9 to 1000 L kg–1 in whole-body male fish exposed to contaminated groundwater for 21 days. The fish and mussel CFb generally increased with increasing fluorocarbon chain length and were greater for sulfonates than for carboxylates. The exception was perfluorohexane sulfonate, which deviated from the linear trend and had a 10-fold difference in CFb between sites, possibly because of biotransformation of precursors such as perfluorohexane sulfonamide. Uptake for most PFAS in male fish was linear over time, whereas female fish had bilinear uptake indicated by an initial increase in tissue concentrations followed by a decrease. Uptake of PFAS was less for mussels (maximum CFb = 200) than for fish, and mussel uptake of most PFAS also was bilinear. Although abiotic concentration factors were greater than CFb, and values for POCIS were greater than for PETS, passive samplers were useful for assessing PFAS that potentially bioconcentrate in fish but are present at concentrations below method quantitation limits in water. Passive samplers also accumulate short-chain PFAS that are not bioconcentrated.

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Environmental Science & Technology