Distinctive biotransformation and biodefluorination of 6:2 versus 5:3 fluorotelomer carboxylic acids by municipal activated sludge

Chen Wu, Sandra Goodrow, Hao Chen, Mengyan Li

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Fluorotelomer carboxylic acids (FTCAs) represent an important group of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) given their high toxicity, bioaccumulation potential, and frequent detection in landfill leachates and PFAS-impacted sites. In this study, we assessed the biodegradability of 6:2 FTCA and 5:3 FTCA by activated sludges from four municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in the New York Metropolitan area. Coupling with 6:2 FTCA removal, significant fluoride release (0.56∼1.83 F-/molecule) was evident in sludge treatments during 7 days of incubation. Less-fluorinated transformation products (TPs) were formed, including 6:2 fluorotelomer unsaturated carboxylic acid (6:2 FTUCA), perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), perfluoropentanoic acid (PFPeA), and perfluorobutanoic acid (PFBA). In contrast, little fluoride (0.01∼0.09 F-/molecule) was detected in 5:3 FTCA-dosed microcosms, though 25∼68% of initially dosed 5:3 FTCA was biologically removed. This implies the dominance of “non-fluoride-releasing pathways” that may contribute to the formation of CoA adducts or other conjugates over 5:3 FTCA biotransformation. The discovery of defluorinated 5:3 FTUCA revealed the possibility of microbial attacks of the C-F bond at the γ carbon to initiate the transformation. Microbial community analysis revealed the possible involvement of 9 genera, such as Hyphomicrobium and Dechloromonas, in aerobic FTCA biotransformation. This study unraveled that biotransformation pathways of 6:2 and 5:3 FTCAs can be divergent, resulting in biodefluorination at distinctive degrees. Further research is underscored to uncover the nontarget TPs and investigate the involved biotransformation and biodefluorination mechanisms and molecular basis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number121431
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - May 1 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


  • Biodefluorination
  • Fluorotelomer carboxylate acids
  • Hyphomicrobium
  • PFAS precursor biotransformation


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