Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 18, Issue 7, pp 1057–1069 | Cite as

Occurrence of perfluorinated organic acids in the North and Baltic seas. Part 1: distribution in sea water

  • Norbert TheobaldEmail author
  • Christina Caliebe
  • Wolfgang Gerwinski
  • Heinrich Hühnerfuss
  • Peter Lepom
Research Article



Due to their high water solubilities and mobilities, persistent, polar perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) such as perfluorinated carboxylates and sulfonates are likely to end up in the oceans. In part 1 of this study, their distribution in North and Baltic Sea water is reported, being of special interest because these seas are surrounded by highly industrialized countries with high population densities.


A combination of solid-phase extraction and liquid chromatography coupled with tandem mass spectrometry was used after optimisation to determine nine PFCs with chain lengths of C4 to C10 in water samples at ultra-trace levels.


The observed concentration distribution and gradients were explained by oceanographic mixing processes and currents. The big rivers were identified as major input sources. At the mouth of the river Elbe, concentrations of 9 ng/L were observed for perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), and 8 ng/L for perfluorooctylsulfonate (PFOS); all other PFC concentrations ranged from 0.6 to 1.7 ng/L. At coastal stations, concentrations decreased to 3.8 ng/L (PFOA) and 1.8 ng/L (PFOS), dropping to 0.13 and 0.09 ng/L, respectively, towards the open sea. Along the Dutch coast, high perfluorobutylsulfonate concentrations (3.9 ng/L) were observed as regional characteristics. In the Baltic Sea, fairly even PFC distributions with low gradients were observed. Again, PFOA and PFOS were the major compounds (up to 1.1 and 0.9 ng/L).


The results underline the necessity to include PFCs in marine monitoring programs. Water was found to be a good matrix for monitoring environmental levels, sources, and transport pathways of PFCs.


Perfluorinated compounds PFC PFOA PFOS North Sea Baltic Sea Sea water 



This work was supported by the German Environmental Agency (Umweltbundesamt, Berlin) by the project No. 202 22 213.


  1. 3M Company (2002), 104-Week dietary chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity study with pfos in rats, final report 3M T6295Google Scholar
  2. 3M Company (2009) 3M’s phase out and new technologies. Available from:
  3. Ahrens L, Barber JI, Xie Z, Ebinghaus R (2009) Longitudinal and latituninal distribution of perfluoralkyl compounds in surface water of the atlantic ocean. Environ Sci Technol 43:3122–3127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. ARW (2009) ARW Jahresbericht 2007, 151–153, ISSN: 0343–0391Google Scholar
  5. Boulanger B, Vargo J, Schoor JL, Hornbuckle KC (2004) Detection of perfluorooctane surfactants in great lakes water. Environ Sci Technol 38:4064–4070CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Caliebe C (2007) Vorkommen und ökologische Relevanz polyfluorierter organischer Schadstoffe in der Meeresumwelt. Dissertation, University Hamburg. Available from:
  7. Gaul H, Ziebarth U (1983) Method for the analysis of lipophilic compounds in water and results about the distribution of different organochlorine compounds in the North Sea. Deutsche Hydrogr Zeitschr 36:191–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Giesy JP, Kannan K (2001) Global distribution of perfluorooctane sulfonate in wildlife. Environ Sci Technol 35:1339–1442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Giesy JP, Kannan K (2002) Perfluorochemical surfactants in the environment. Environ Sci Technol 36:147A–152ACrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Hansen KJ, Johnson HO, Eldridge JS, Butenhoff JL, Dick LA (2002) Quantitative characterization of trace levels of PFOS and PFOA in the Tennessee River. Environ Sci Technol 36:1681–1685CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kannan K, Koistenen J, Beckmen K, Evans T, Gorzelany JF, Hansen KJ, Jones PD, Helle E, Nyman M, Giesy JP (2001) Accumulation of perfluorooctane sulfonate in marine mammals. Environ Sci Technol 35:1593–1598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kannan K, Hansen KJ, Wade TL, Giesy JP (2002a) Perfluorooctane sulfonate in oysters, crassostrea virginica, from the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay, USA. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol 42:313–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Kannan K, Newsted J, Halbrook RS, Giesy JP (2002b) Perfluorooctanesulfonate and related fluorinated hydrocarbons in mink and river otters from the United States. Environ Sci Technol 36:2566–2571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Kannan K, Corsolini S, Falandysz J, Oehme G, Focardi S, Giesy JP (2002c) Perfluorooctanesulfonate and related fluorinated hydrocarbons in marine mammals, fishes, and birds from coasts of the Baltic and the Mediterranean Seas. Environ Sci Technol 36:3210–3216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lange FT, Schmidt CK, Brauch HJ (2007) Perfluorierte Tenside: Der PFOS (Perfluoroctansulfonat)-Ersatzstoff PFBS (Perfluorbutansulfonat) beeinflusst zunehmend die Rohwasserqualität von Rheinwasserwerken. Wasser Abwasser 148:510–516Google Scholar
  16. NICNAS (2005) Potassium perfluorobutane sulfonate, existing chemical hazard assessment report. Available from:
  17. OECD (2002) Hazard assessment of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and its salts, ENV/JM/RD(2002)17/FINALGoogle Scholar
  18. OSPAR (2005, updated 2006) OSPAR background document on perfluorooctane sulphonate (PFOS),
  19. Prevedouros K, Cousins IT, Buck RC, Korenziowski SH (2006) Sources, fate and transport of perfluorocarboxylates. Env Sci Technol 40:32–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rosenberg B, DeLaronde J, MacHutchon A, Stern G, Spencer C, Scott B, Lopez E, Muir D, Tomy G (2008) Spatial and vertical distribution of perfluorinated compounds in canadian arctic and sub-arctic ocean water. Organohalogen Compd 70:386–389Google Scholar
  21. So MK, Taniyasu S, Yamashita N, Giesy JP, Zheng J, Fang Z, Im SH, Lam PKS (2004) Perfluorinated compounds in coastal waters of Hong Kong, South China, and Korea. Environ Sci Technol 38:4056–4063CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Stockholm Convention (2009) The 9 new POPs under the Stockholm Convention. Available from:
  23. Theobald N (2006) in Nordseezustand 2004, Berichte des Bundesamts für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie, Hamburg und Rostock, Nr. 40/2006;
  24. Theobald N (2009) in System Nordsee: Zustand 2005 im Kontext langzeitlicher Entwicklungen. Berichte des Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie, Hamburg und Rostock.Nr.44, 2009.
  25. Theobald N, Gerwinski W, Jahnke A (2007a) Occurrence of perfluorinated organic acids in surface sea-water of the east Atlantic Ocean between 53° North and 30° South. Poster presentation at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting, Porto, Portugal, May20–24, 2007Google Scholar
  26. Theobald N, Gerwinski W, Caliebe C, Haarich M (2007b) Entwicklung und Validierung einer Methode zur Bestimmung von polyfluorierten organischen Substanzen in Meerwasser, Sedimenten und Biota; Untersuchungen zum Vorkommen dieser Schadstoffe in der Nord- und Ostsee. UBA-Texte 41/2007, (abstract in English and German, text in German). Available from:
  27. Theobald N, Caliebe C, Gerwinski W, Hühnerfuss H, Lepom P (2011) Occurrence of perfluorinated organic acids in the North and Baltic Seas; part 2: Distribution in sediments. Environ Sci Pollut Res (in press)Google Scholar
  28. van Leeuwen S, Kärrman A, Zammit A, van Bavel B, van der Veen I, Kwadijk C, de Boer J, Lindström G (2005) 1st Worldwide Interlaboratory Study On Perfluorinated Compounds In Human And Environmental Matrices, Final Report, RIVO- Netherlands, Institute for Fisheries Research, Report nr. C070/05Google Scholar
  29. Van Leeuwen SPL, Swart K, van der Veen I, de Boer J (2008) Significant improvements in the analysis of perfluorinated compounds in water and fish—results from an interlaboratory method evaluation study. Inst. for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  30. Wei S, Chen LQ, Taniyasu S, So MK, Murphy MB, Yamashita N, Yeung LWY, Lam PKS (2007) Distribution of perfluorinated compounds in surface seawaters between Asia and Antarctica. Mar Pollut Bull 54:1813–1838CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Yamashita N, Kannan K, Taniyasu S, Horii Y, Okazawa T, Petrick G, Gamo T (2004) Analysis of perfluorinated acids at parts-perquadrillion levels in seawater using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Environ Sci Technol 38:5522–5528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Yamashita N, Kannan K, Taniyasu S, Horii Y, Petrick G, Gamo TA (2005) Global survey of perfluorinated acids in oceans. Mar Pollut Bull 51:658–668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yamashita N, Taniyasu S, Petrick G, Wei S, Gamo T, Lam PKS, Kannan K (2008) Perfluorinated acids as novel chemical tracers of global circulation of ocean waters. Chemosphere 70:1247–1255CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norbert Theobald
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christina Caliebe
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Gerwinski
    • 1
  • Heinrich Hühnerfuss
    • 2
  • Peter Lepom
    • 3
  1. 1.Federal Maritime and Hydrographic AgencyHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany
  3. 3.Federal Environment AgencyBerlinGermany

Personalised recommendations