Investigating rate-limited sorption, sorption to air-water interfaces, and colloid-facilitated transport during PFAS leaching

Thomas Bierbaum, Scott K. Hansen, Bikash Poudel, Claus Haslauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Various sorption processes affect leaching of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) such as PFOA and PFOS. The objectives of this study are to (1) compare rate-limited leaching in column and lysimeter experiments, (2) investigate the relevance of sorption to air-water interfaces (AWI), and (3) examine colloid-facilitated transport as a process explaining early experimental breakthrough. A continuum model (CM) with two-domain sorption is used to simulate equilibrium and rate-limited sorption. A random walk particle tracking (PT) model was developed and applied to analyze complex leaching characteristics. Results show that sorption parameters derived from column experiments underestimate long-term PFOA leaching in lysimeter experiments due to early depletion, suggesting that transformation of precursors contributes to the observed long-term leaching in the lysimeters (approximately 0.003 µg/kg/d PFOA). Both models demonstrate that sorption to AWI is the dominant retention mechanism for PFOS in lysimeter experiments, with retardation due to AWI being 3 (CM) to 3.7 (PT) times higher than retardation due to solid phase sorption. Notably, despite a simplified conception of AWI sorption, the PT results are closer to the observations. The PT simulations demonstrate possible colloid-facilitated transport at early time; however, results using substance-specific varying transport parameters align better with the observations, which should be equal if colloid-facilitated transport without additional kinetics is the sole mechanism affecting early breakthrough. Possibly, rate-limited sorption to AWI is relevant during the early stages of the lysimeter experiment. Our findings demonstrate that rate-limited sorption is less relevant for long-term leaching under field conditions compared to transformation of precursors and that sorption to AWI can be the dominant retention mechanism on contaminated sites. Moreover, they highlight the potential of random walk particle tracking as a practical alternative to continuum models for estimating the relative contributions of various retention mechanisms.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)121529-121547
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number58
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2023


  • Air–water interfaces
  • Colloid-facilitated transport
  • PFAS
  • Random walk particle tracking
  • Rate-limited sorption

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Environmental Chemistry


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