Occurrence of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in garden produce at homes with a history of PFAS-contaminated drinking water

The decades-long disposal of manufacturing waste containing perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in landfills resulted in contamination of groundwater serving as the drinking water supply for the eastern Twin Cities metropolitan region. While measures were taken to reduce the levels of PFAS in the drinking water, questions remained about possible non-drinking water pathways of exposure in these communities. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) investigated whether PFAS in water used for yard and garden irrigation results in elevated concentrations of PFAS in soil and home-grown produce. In 2010, samples of outdoor tap water, garden soil, and garden produce were collected at homes impacted by the contamination and analyzed for several PFAS. Perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA) was the primary PFAS present in water, followed by perfluoropentanoic acid (PFPeA). Although PFBA, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) were present in 100% of soil samples at higher concentrations compared to other PFAS, only PFBA was readily translocated to plants. Significant determinants of PFBA concentration in produce were the amount of PFBA applied to the garden via watering and the type of produce tested. Results from this real-world study are consistent with experimental findings that short-chain PFAS have the highest potential to translocate to and bioaccumulate in edible plants. These findings are globally relevant, as short-chain PFAS serve as commercial substitutes for longer-chain compounds and are increasingly detected in water due to their relatively high solubility and mobility.

Mindi Messmer