CEE Seminar: Source, Transport and Remediation Potential of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), aka the Forever Chemicals

McDonnell Douglas Engineering Auditorium
Jenny E. Zenobio

Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
UC Irvine

Abstract: In recent years, the presence of PFAS in aquatic systems has led to research on their fate, effects and treatability. PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, are highly fluorinated aliphatic chemicals, extremely resistant to biological degradation and oxidative chemical attack. PFAS have been in the environment for more than 60 years and are used in a wide range of commercial and industrial products, including aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs). The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the new PFAS list that includes 4,730 individual PFAS, of which transport, toxicity and degradation are unknown. PFAS are widely detected in air, soil, water and wildlife species increasing concern for their long-term exposure due to their bio-accumulative characteristics. Thus, information is critical to evaluate wildlife and human exposure to the forever chemicals. My work explores the transport of PFAS using microplastics as carriers. Microplastics are abundant and widespread in the aquatic environment. Their polymeric chemistry enables microplastics to absorb organic chemicals (such as PFAS), thus transporting these chemicals with them. Additionally, I will present my work on reductive treatment of PFAS using zero-valent metal nanoparticles (nano-ZVM) synthesized onto a carbon material. My research will address the reductive reaction mechanisms and pathways for defluorination of PFAS. 

Bio: Jenny E. Zenobio is a Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Irvine. Her research work entails the study of microplastics as transport vectors of emerging contaminants and their uptake, translocation and biotransformation by plants. Before joining UCI, Zenobio earned her doctorate in environmental chemistry from Purdue University, while her research work was performed at Harvard University. Her research background reflects an interdisciplinary framework combining engineering, toxicology, chemistry and nanotechnology. Her doctoral research focused on in-situ technologies for degrading per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). She earned her master of science degree in the area of environmental toxicology from the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University and her bachelor's degree in sanitary engineering from the National University of Engineering in Lima, Peru.