Superfund Research Program
Development of a Smart PFAS-Collector for High-Throughput PFAS Detection
Project Leader: Alexis W. Carpenter
Grant Number: R43ES033585
Funding Period: Phase I: September 2021 - August 2022
Rising awareness of the ubiquity of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) coupled with growing evidence of human health hazards has led to increased PFAS testing of water sources that feed drinking-water supplies. Early estimations of the PFAS treatment market are at $3.1Bn, with testing representing a key revenue driver. While highly accurate, current high resolution mass spectroscopy (HRMS) PFAS detection methods have high per sample costs and long turnaround times. The specialized equipment is expensive and requires skilled personnel and laborious sample preparation. As a result, budget-strapped stakeholders may limit the comprehensive testing needed for site assessment. Long turnaround times can mean continued community exposure and uncertainty of clean-up progress. The research team is developing a low-cost, high-throughput, portable PFAS-detection method. The researchers are initially developing this as a screening tool for environmental engineers to provide real-time data of elevated PFAS levels to inform exposures and further testing needs. Long-term goals for the research team are to achieve specificity and detection limits necessary for receiving EPA approval. This technology meets the specific Superfund Research Program need of “nanotechnology-based sensors” to “characterize [and] monitor hazardous substances at contaminated sites”. The specific objectives of this Phase I SBIR program are the development of and bench-scale testing of the research team's PFAS-targeting “smart” collector, which is a key component of the research team's high throughput PFAS detector. The long-term objectives of this multidisciplinary technology development program will integrate material science, advanced spectroscopy, and data analytics. The key innovation in this work is unique PFAS-targeting nanoparticles that will produce a fluorescence signal upon binding PFAS. The research team's initial goal is ppb level detection, and ultimately ppt to meet regulatory requirements. Specific tasks of this Phase I include lab-scale manufacturing of a suite of surface-modified fluorescent nanoparticles and testing for PFAS-targeting and - detecting abilities. Promising candidates will be down-selected according to specific criteria and integrated into a pre-prototype “smart” collector, which will then be tested at bench-scale. Phase I will test proof-of-concept against standard solutions of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), and an Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam (AFFF) Ansulite. Additional tasks involve preparing for prototyping and broader PFAS compound testing in realistic environments in Phase II.