Evaluation of treatment options for well water contaminated with perfluorinated alkyl substances using life cycle assessment

  • Isaac Emery
  • David Kempisty
  • Brittany Fain
  • Eric MbonimpaEmail author



As knowledge grows of the potentially harmful effects of chemicals in widespread use, emerging contaminants have become a major source of concern and uncertainty for public health officials and water quality managers. Perfluorinated alkyl substances, often referred to as perfluorinated compounds, have come under recent scrutiny and are present in groundwater at many sites across the USA. We examine the life cycle impacts of treating drinking water at one such site.


We assembled life cycle models for groundwater treatment and bottled water delivery to residents of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where wells were recently taken out of service due to concerns related to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination. Two treatment methods, granular activated carbon filtration and ion-exchange columns, were modeled under a range of contaminant concentrations covering three orders of magnitude: 0.7, 7.0, and 70 μg/L PFAS. On-site infrastructure, operations, and adsorbent cycling were included in models. Impacts of bottled water production and supply were assessed using two data sets reflecting a range of production and supply chain assumptions. Uncertainty in input data was captured using Monte Carlo simulations.

Results and discussion

Results show that for contaminant concentrations below 70 μg/L, the dominant contributor to life cycle impacts is electricity use at the treatment facility. Production, reactivation, and disposal of treatment media become major sources of impact only at very high PFAS concentrations. Though the life cycle impacts of bottled water are up to three orders of magnitude higher than remediated groundwater on a volumetric basis, supplementing a contaminated water supply with bottled drinking water may result in lower life cycle human health impacts when only a small proportion of the total population is vulnerable.


These results provide quantitative data and proposed scenarios for water quality managers and risk management officials in developing plans to address PFAS contamination and emerging contaminants in general. However, more information on the direct human health effects of these poorly understood pollutants is needed before the trade-offs in life cycle health impacts can be comprehensively assessed.


Bottled water Emerging contaminants Life cycle assessment PFAS Water treatment 



The authors thank Treva Bashore and Michael Brady with the Air Force Civil Engineering Center for their helpful conversations in identifying case studies for this project. We are also grateful to Ryan Morrish with Bay West, LLC., Kendra Ryan with Calgon Carbon, Inc., William Scoville from CBI Federal Services, Inc., Steve Woodard with Emerging Contaminant Treatment Technologies, and Brandon Newman with Amec Foster Wheeler, Inc. for supplying data. This research was supported by Defense Environmental Restoration Account (DERA) funds, and by an appointment to the Postgraduate Research Participation Program at the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an interagency agreement between the US Department of Energy and AFIT. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Air Force, the US Department of Defense, or the US government.

Supplementary material

11367_2018_1499_MOESM1_ESM.docx (74 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 73 kb)


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Copyright information

© This is a U.S. government work and its text is not subject to copyright protection in the United States; however, its text may be subject to foreign copyright protection  2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Isaac Emery
    • 1
  • David Kempisty
    • 2
  • Brittany Fain
    • 3
  • Eric Mbonimpa
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Systems Engineering and ManagementAir Force Institute of TechnologyWright-Patterson AFBUSA
  2. 2.North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, Command Surgeon’s DirectoratePeterson AFBUSA
  3. 3.Special Operations Aerospace Medicine SquadronUnited States Air ForceWashingtonUSA

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