Enhancing global prediction of PFAS pollutant fate in sediment

Lead Research Organisation: CRANFIELD UNIVERSITY
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment


This project will establish a unique global research partnership focused on studying sediments contaminated by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS sediment pollution is a widespread and persistent issue caused by human activities and industrial processes. Over the years, PFAS mixtures have accumulated in fine sediment deposits in freshwater and coastal systems, creating a store of highly concentrated chemical mixtures that can be released into the water through physical, chemical, and biological mechanisms. In Europe and the UK, over 17,000 sites with high concentrations of PFAS have been identified, often far from their main sources, with concentrations exceeding 500 times the threshold limits. These "forever chemicals" are extremely harmful to wildlife and the aquatic environment due to their high persistence and resistance to degradation. However, there is a lack of knowledge about the primary physical and chemical processes responsible for their fate and transport in aquatic systems, as well as the mutual interaction of PFAS mixtures.

This project will establish a new international research partnership focused on the risks posed by contaminated sediment to bridge this knowledge gap by conducting bespoke experimental investigations and prediction modelling. The focus will be on the quantitative understanding of the mobilisation of PFAS in sediments, how waterbody hydrodynamics and geochemical processes impact the fate and transport of PFAS bound to fine sediments.

This research outcome will provide a multidimensional approach to describe pollutant behavior and mixture interactions in waterbody sediment that will enhance existing models, such as the Water Quality Analysis Simulation Program (WASP8) and the Remedial Design of Contaminated Sediments (CapSim 4), both used internationally by stakeholders, academia, and industry to describe pollutant behaviour and mixture interactions in waterbody sediment.


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