Ecological characteristics impact PFAS concentrations in a U.S. North Atlantic food web

Document Type


Publication Title

Science of the Total Environment

Publication Date



This is the first comprehensive study of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in a coastal food web of the U.S. North Atlantic, in which we characterize the presence and concentrations of 24 targeted PFAS across 18 marine species from Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, and surrounding waters. These species reflect the diversity of a typical North Atlantic Ocean food web with organisms from a variety of taxa, habitat types, and feeding guilds. Many of these organisms have no previously reported information on PFAS tissue concentrations. We found significant relationships of PFAS concentrations with respect to various ecological characteristics including species, body size, habitat, feeding guild, and location of collection. Based upon the 19 PFAS detected in the study (5 were not detected in samples), benthic omnivores (American lobsters = 10.5 ng/g ww, winter skates = 5.77 ng/g ww, Cancer crabs = 4.59 ng/g ww) and pelagic piscivores (striped bass = 8.50 ng/g ww, bluefish = 4.30 ng/g ww) demonstrated the greatest average ∑PFAS concentrations across all species sampled. Further, American lobsters had the highest concentrations detected in individuals (∑PFAS up to 21.1 ng/g ww, which consisted primarily of long-chain PFCAs). The calculation of field-based trophic magnification factors (TMFs) for the top 8 detected PFAS determined that perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), and perfluorooctane sulfonamide (FOSA) associated with the pelagic habitat biomagnified, whereas perfluorotetradecanoic acid (PFTeDA) associated with the benthic habitat demonstrated trophic dilution in this food web (calculated trophic levels ranged from 1.65 to 4.97). While PFAS exposure to these organisms may have adverse implications for ecological impacts via toxicological effects, many of these species are also key recreational and commercial fisheries resulting in potential for human exposure via dietary consumption.