The ubiquity of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment and their solubility in water has resulted in widespread exposure, particularly in aquatic ecosystems. In general, the exposure of benthic infauna and epifauna is partially related to the bioavailability of chemicals in sediments, which varies in mineral and organic matter content. Although sediment organic matter is known to be positively related to concentrations of organics and metals, far less is known about the relationship with PFAS. As such, the overall goals of this multi-year project are to investigate the pattern and profiles of PFAS bioaccumulation in lower trophic level marine organisms; the transfer to higher tropic levels in marine good webs; and the toxicity of less studied PFAS.

Technical Approach

The approach will utilize field studies in the Great Bay estuary, a system that has been impacted with PFAS from the former Pease Air Force Base and certain municipal sources. The project team will conduct the following studies:

  1. Field studies to determine PFAS concentrations in sediments and water and in lower trophic level organisms;
  2. Laboratory studies using the model organisms, Leptocheirus plumulosus (amphipod) and Fundulus heteroclitus (forage fish), to measure bioaccumulation of PFAS within each species from impacted sediments across different organic matter treatments; and
  3. Toxicity studies for legacy and emerging PFAS using three marine taxa: the marine flagellate, Tisochrysis lutea; the zooplankton species, Acartia tonsa; and L. plumulosus.


This project will provide benefits to the Department of Defense (DoD) and the scientific community via field and experimental data on PFAS bioaccumulation and biomagnification from marine pelagic and benthic organisms, which can, in turn, be used to support food web modeling. Laboratory study results will determine the relative toxicity of various PFAS compared to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) to enhance risk management decisions and support development of Toxicity Reference Values (TRVs) for marine species in water and sediments. (Anticipated Project Completion - 2027)