Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is an emerging contaminant of concern due to its toxicity for human health and ecosystems. However, successful degradation of PFOA in aqueous solutions with a cost-effective method remains a challenge, especially for groundwater. In this study, the degradation of PFOA using activated persulfate under mild conditions was investigated. The impact of different factors on persulfate activity, including pH, temperature (25 °C–50 °C), persulfate dosage and reaction time, was evaluated under different experimental conditions. Contrary to the traditional alkaline-activated persulfate oxidation, it was found that PFOA can be effectively degraded using activated persulfate under acidic conditions, with the degradation kinetics following the pseudo-first-order decay model. Higher temperature, higher persulfate dosage and increased reaction time generally result in higher PFOA degradation efficiency. Experimental results show that a PFOA degradation efficiency of 89.9% can be achieved by activated persulfate at pH of 2.0, with the reaction temperature of 50 °C, molar ratio of PFOA to persulfate as 1:100, and a reaction time of 100 h. The corresponding defluorination ratio under these conditions was 23.9%, indicating that not all PFOA decomposed via fluorine removal. The electron paramagnetic resonance spectrometer analysis results indicate that both SO4−
• and •OH contribute to the decomposition of PFOA. It is proposed that PFOA degradation occurs via a decarboxylation reaction triggered by SO4−
•, followed by a HF elimination process aided by •OH, which produces one-CF2
-unit-shortened perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids (PFCAs, Cn−1
COOH). The decarboxylation and HF elimination processes would repeat and eventually lead to the complete mineralization all PFCAs.
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