A Nationwide Assessment of Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on National Park Service Lands

Primary Investigators

USGS Investigators: Kelly Smalling

NPS Investigators: David VanderMeulen

Project Details

Start Year: 2023

Category: Synoptic

2023 2024
$75,000 $75,000

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were first used in the 1940s, are ubiquitous in the environment, and are of significant national concern to human health, wildlife, and ecosystems because of their prevalence, persistence, and toxicity. PFAS are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their resistance to chemical and thermal degradation. Their recalcitrance makes them useful for a variety of commercial applications but also persistent in the environment. Sources of PFAS are diverse and range from wastewater and septic systems to stormwater runoff, biosolids application, and landfill leachate, as well as industrial releases and firefighting foam. Because of the wide variety of uses, PFAS is found in many environments and organisms globally, including in atmospheric particulate matter and wet deposition. Federal and state agencies have recently emphasized a critical need for understanding the occurrence, fate, transport, and effects of PFAS in the environment and to the public. Currently, there is an incomplete understanding of PFAS exposure within ecosystems and food webs, especially on federally protected lands, which limits our understanding of whether sensitive natural resources or human health are at-risk in national parks.

The USGS and NPS have successfully built a citizen scientist-based network designed to connect people to parks by supporting community engagement and education, advancing the missions of both the agencies. The Dragonfly Mercury Project (DMP) has been monitoring mercury concentrations in dragonfly larvae in national parks since 2009 and leveraging this established network to address PFAS concerns is a logical and important next step. The current study is designed to leverage past and ongoing citizen-science dragonfly sampling from the DMP to assess the potential scope and magnitude of PFAS contamination in NPS food webs Service wide.

The objectives of the study are to:

  1. address the prevalence of PFAS on NPS lands and its geographic extent,
  2. determine the ecologically relevant PFAS mixtures occurring in biota of NPS lands
  3. quantify the utility of dragonfly larvae as biosentinels for PFAS to address potential risks to fish and humans.