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Assessing the potential impacts of biosolids applications on the presence of PFAS compounds in nearby groundwater wells: A citizen science-based study in Pennsylvania

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2022 ASABE Annual International Meeting  2200110.(doi:10.13031/aim.202200110)
Authors:   Md Shahin Alam, Heather E Preisendanz, Jennifer R Fetter, Susan Boser, Bryan R Swistock
Keywords:   Biosolids, groundwater, PFAS, potable water, water quality, wells

Abstract. Recent concerns regarding the carcinogenicity of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s, have prompted the recommendation of new health advisories, guidelines, and standards for drinking water. While public drinking water suppliers in the United States have been monitoring for PFAS, people reliant on private wells face challenges, given that water quality analysis for PFAS is expensive. Across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, more than 1 million private wells supply potable water to farms and households in rural and suburban areas. While elevated levels of PFAS in drinking water have been identified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in wells near industrial, military, and fire training sites, less is known regarding the potential impacts of agricultural sources, such as biosolids application, on groundwater quality. Therefore, we recruited ~70 citizen scientists to sample their private wells based on proximity to sites with active permits for biosolids application. Samples were analyzed for 20 PFAS and were detected in 73.5% of the citizen science samples, with a maximum total measured PFAS concentration of 80.4 ng/L. Concentrations were below 2016 federal health advisory levels and were generally in the lower ranges of PFAS concentrations observed in groundwater across the Commonwealth. However, 72% of households included in the citizen science study contained PFAS levels above the 2022 interim health advisories. The results of this study will help to establish links between PFAS known to be present in biosolids and the potential for beneficial reuse of these residuals to affect the water quality and are expected to aid in the development of management practices for PFAS-containing residuals that minimize risks to human health.

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