Persistence of perfluoroalkylated substances in closed bottle tests with municipal sewage sludge

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2008 Sep;15(6):472-7. doi: 10.1007/s11356-008-0020-5. Epub 2008 Jul 2.


Background, aim, and scope: Perfluoroalkylated substances (PFAS) are chemicals with completely fluorinated alkyl chains. The specific properties of the F-C bond give PFAS a high stability and make them very useful in a wide range of applications. PFAS also pose a potential risk to the environment and humans because they have been recently characterized as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. The objective of this work is to study the bacterial degradation of PFAS under aerobic and anaerobic conditions in municipal sewage sludge as a contribution toward understanding their environmental fate and behavior.

Materials and methods: Bacterial communities from sewage sludge were exposed to a mixture of PFAS under aerobic or anaerobic conditions. Individual PFAS concentrations were determined in the experiment media at different exposure times using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis after extraction with solid-phase extraction.

Results: The PFAS analyses of samples of sludge showed repeatable replicate results, allowing a reliable quantification of the different groups of PFAS analyzed. No conclusive evidence for PFAS degradation was observed under the experimental conditions tested in this work. Reduction in concentrations, however, was observed for some PFAS in sludge under aerobic conditions.

Discussion: The largest concentration decrease occurred for the fluorotelomer alcohols (FTOHs), especially for the 8:2 FTOH, which have been described as biodegradable in the literature. However, this concentration decrease could be due to different causes: sorption to glass, septa, or matrix components, as well as bacterial activity. Therefore, it is not certain that biodegradation occurred.

Conclusions: PFAS are very recalcitrant chemicals, especially when fully fluorinated. Although some decreases in concentration have been observed for some PFAS, such as the FTOHs, there is no conclusive evidence for biodegradation. It can be concluded that the PFAS tested in these experiments are non-biodegradable under these experimental conditions.

Recommendations and perspectives: Since the presence of PFAS is ubiquitous in the environment and they can be toxic, more research is needed in this field to elucidate which PFAS are susceptible to biodegradation, the conditions required for biodegradation, and the possible routes followed. A possible inhibitory effect of PFAS on bacteria, the threshold concentrations, and conditions of inhibition should also be investigated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aerobiosis
  • Anaerobiosis
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Bioreactors
  • Cities
  • Fluorocarbons / analysis*
  • Sewage / chemistry*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Fluorocarbons
  • Sewage
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical