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eNews February 2021

PhD student from NMSU awarded Student Water Research Grant to study emerging contaminants PFAS

PhD student from NMSU awarded Student Water Research Grant to study emerging contaminants PFAS

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Student Program Coordinator

Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals used in food packaging, clothing, cleaning products, dental floss, nonstick cookware, and many other products that we use in our daily lives. Although more research is needed on the subject, recent studies have shown that exposure to large amounts of PFAS may negatively affect human health. Many PFAS chemicals do not break down naturally. The stable carbon-fluorine bond protects PFAS structures against environmental degradation and results in air, soil, and groundwater accumulation.

In 2018, the New Mexico Environment Department reported that PFAS associated with firefighting foams used in military training exercises were discovered in groundwater at and around Cannon Air Force Base and Holloman Air Force Base. Due to the ability of PFAS to bioaccumulate in animals, there is concern about some of the contaminated wells supplying drinking water to local dairies.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute awarded New Mexico State University PhD candidate Zahra Abbasian a Student Water Research Grant to help fund her research of PFAS fate and transport. An accurate understanding of PFAS transport is essential to developing efficient remediation methods and determining the exposure risks. Therefore, under the guidance of her faculty advisor, Dr. Reza Foudazi, Abbasian has begun work on a research project entitled, The effect of concentration and composition on PFAS adsorption at air-water interface.

The project aims to study PFAS adsorption kinetics and equilibrium at the air-water interface by measuring the surface tension over time. Abbasian will examine different concentrations, compositions, and the amount of PFAS adsorbed at the air-water interface after equilibrium time, which could indicate how fast and to what extent these contaminants can be transported from the liquid phase to the interface.

Results of this research will demonstrate the factors that affect PFAS adsorption at air-water interface and is expected to show that PFAS adsorption at the air-water interface should be considered in PFAS fate/transport analysis and risk assessment. Several remediation techniques are also likely to benefit from the results of the project. Abbasian has presented this project at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting, and at the Annual New Mexico Water Conference.

Originally from Iran, Abbasian received her BS in Chemical Engineering from Shiraz University, and her MS in Chemical Engineering from Iran University of Science & Technology where she worked on the synthesis of highly porous polymers. Abbasian will graduate in 2022 with a PhD in Chemical and Materials Engineering, and plans to become an academic or industry leader in the field of water and wastewater treatment.