Environmental Restoration (ER) Program Area

The objective of this Statement of Need (SON) was to develop an improved understanding of biodegradation processes and biological treatment strategies for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the subsurface. Specifically, the goal was to address the following research needs:

  • Identify and/or isolate microorganisms capable of degrading perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs), particularly perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).
  • Improve the understanding of biodegradation processes that could lead to PFAS biological treatment alone or as part of a treatment train.
  • Identify biological treatment strategies capable of destroying PFOS and related PFAAs in or extracted from aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF)-contaminated groundwaters.
  • Identify biological treatment strategies to degrade potential PFAA precursors without production of PFAAs.
  • Identify enzymes capable of defluorination of PFAAs and/or genes coding for such enzymes. 

The projects listed below were selected to address the objectives of this SON. Additional information on individual projects will be available soon.

    • Lead Investigator: Jinxia Liu, McGill University

    • Lead Investigator: Peter Jaffe, Princeton University

    • Lead Investigator: Yujie Men, University of California, Riverside

    • Lead Investigator: Bruce Rittmann, Arizona State University

    • Lead Investigator: Pedro Alvarez, Rice University

Demonstrating the potential for a biological mechanism capable of treating PFAS, could serve as the basis for ex situ or in situ treatment. In particular, the ability to degrade PFOS and/or prevent its production would be valuable to DoD and other AFFF users. A viable biological treatment technology could significantly reduce the costs of remediating AFFF sites. Finally, a better understanding of the potential and limitations of PFAS biodegradation could lead to further development of a promising approach, or prevent further spending if PFAAs prove to be truly recalcitrant or if it proves impossible to prevent precursor transformations to PFAAs.