Evaluation and Management Strategies for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in Drinking Water Aquifers: Perspectives from Impacted U.S. Northeast Communities

Environ Health Perspect. 2018 Jun 15;126(6):065001. doi: 10.1289/EHP2727. eCollection 2018 Jun.


Background: Multiple Northeast U.S. communities have discovered per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in drinking water aquifers in excess of health-based regulatory levels or advisories. Regional stakeholders (consultants, regulators, and others) need technical background and tools to mitigate risks associated with exposure to PFAS-affected groundwater.

Objectives: The aim was to identify challenges faced by stakeholders to extend best practices to other regions experiencing PFAS releases and to establish a framework for research strategies and best management practices.

Methods and approach: Management challenges were identified during stakeholder engagement events connecting attendees with PFAS experts in focus areas, including fate/transport, toxicology, and regulation. Review of the literature provided perspective on challenges in all focus areas. Publicly available data were used to characterize sources of PFAS impacts in groundwater and conduct a geospatial case study of potential source locations relative to drinking water aquifers in Rhode Island.

Discussion: Challenges in managing PFAS impacts in drinking water arise from the large number of relevant PFASs, unconsolidated information regarding sources, and limited studies on some PFASs. In particular, there is still considerable uncertainty regarding human health impacts of PFASs. Frameworks sequentially evaluating exposure, persistence, and treatability can prioritize PFASs for evaluation of potential human health impacts. A regional case study illustrates how risk-based, geospatial methods can help address knowledge gaps regarding potential sources of PFASs in drinking water aquifers and evaluate risk of exposure.

Conclusion: Lessons learned from stakeholder engagement can assist in developing strategies for management of PFASs in other regions. However, current management practices primarily target a subset of PFASs for which in-depth studies are available. Exposure to less-studied, co-occurring PFASs remains largely unaddressed. Frameworks leveraging the current state of science can be applied toward accelerating this process and reducing exposure to total PFASs in drinking water, even as research regarding health effects continues. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP2727.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Drinking Water / standards*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fluorocarbons / toxicity*
  • Groundwater / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • New England
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / prevention & control*
  • Water Purification / methods
  • Water Quality / standards


  • Drinking Water
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical