Biodegradation of perfluorinated compounds

John R. Parsons*, Monica Sáez, Jan Dolfing, Pim de Voogt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

231 Citations (Scopus)


The information available in the literature provides evidence for the biodegradation of some poly- and per-fluorinated compounds, but such biodegradation is incomplete and may not result in mineralization. Recent publications have demonstrated that 8:2 fluorotelomer alcohol, for example, can be degraded by bacteria from soil and wastewater treatment plants to perfluorooctanoic acid. Similarly, 2-N-ethyl(perfluorooctane sulfonamido)ethanol can be degraded by wastewater treatment sludge to perfluorooctanesulfonate. It is presently unclear whether these two products are degraded further. Therefore, the question remains as to whether there is a potential for defluorination and biodegradation of PFCs that contributes significantly to their environmental fate. The lack of mineralization observed is probably caused by the stability of the C-F bond, although there are examples of microbially catalyzed defluorination reactions. As is the case with reductive dechlorination or debromination, reductive defluorination is energetically favorable under anaerobic conditions and releases more energy than that available from sulfate reduction or methanogenesis. Consequently, we should consider the possibility that bacteria will adapt to utilize this source of energy, although evolving mechanisms to overcome the kinetic barriers to degradation of these compounds may take some time. The fact that such reactions are absent for some PFCs, to date, may be because too little time has passed for microorganisms to adapt to these potential substrates. Hence, the situation may be comparable to that of chlorinated organic compounds several decades ago. For many years, organochlorine compounds were considered to be catabolically recalcitrant; today, reductive chlorination reactions of many organochlorines, including PCBs and dioxins, are regularly observed in anaerobic environments. Hence, it is opportune and important to continue studying the potential degradation of perfluorinated compounds in carefully designed experiments with either microbial populations from contaminated sites or cultures of bacteria known to dehalogenate chlorinated compounds.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology Vol 196
EditorsDavid Whitacre
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameReviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
ISSN (Print)0179-5953


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