Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: South Carolina
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

South Carolina Project

PFAS Bioaccumulation in Coastal Seabirds

November 2022 - December 2024


Participating Agencies

Oystercatchers nesting on shell rake in Cape Romain NWR, SC

Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are anthropogenic pollutants that are ubiquitous in human and natural environments, highly persistent, and associated with impacts at low levels of exposure in humans. PFAS are released into the environment via a number of pathways, including use and disposal of consumer products, manufacturing activities, and application of aqueous film forming foams (AFFF), particularly at DoD sites. , Limited information exists relating concentrations of multiple precursors or terminal PFAS in abiotic matrices impacted by AFFF (e.g. sediment, water) and prey items (e.g. fish, invertebrates) to observed residue levels in avifauna or other predators at or near AFFF-impacted sites. The poor understanding of these pathways and relationships is problematic considering avifauna, including seabirds, have been documented to contain elevated levels of PFOS and other PFAS, with limited data suggesting potential impacts on hormone disruption, lipid expression, and reproduction at current exposure levels. The project is a collaboration of researchers across multiple organizatios and includes The Universitty of Rhode Island, The Nature Conservancy, and SC DNR. We will measure the bioaccumulation and biomagnification of a wide range of PFAS in seabirds that rely on environments and food webs downstream from Joint Base Charleston within the Charleston, SC region, using a unique combination of a field sampling campaign paired with biologging efforts, coupled to analysis of targeted terminal PFAS, environmental precursors, EOF, and stable isotopes. This comprehensive field effort will leverage collaborative partnerships to sample environmental media (air, water, sediment) and prey food, and will be paired with spatial tracking efforts and biological sampling of adult seabirds, chicks, and eggs, to provide novel information about the bioaccumulation of PFAS in estuarine and marine avifauna.