Research

Research in the McDonough lab aims to develop a comprehensive understanding of how organic contaminants impact aquatic ecosystems and human health by combining innovative environmental chemistry and bioanalytical techniques, state-of-the-art mass spectrometry, and field monitoring campaigns. Our work protects the public from exposure to harmful pollutants and draws attention to the global ubiquity of organic contaminants.

 

Current Research Projects

Bioaccumulation of Novel Per/Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) from an Aqueous Firefighting Foam (AFFF) in a Mouse Model

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are a global research priority because they have been found at levels exceeding various health advisory limits in the drinking water of millions of people. Aqueous firefighting foams (AFFFs) are a common source of complex mixtures containing hundreds of PFASs to drinking water. Understanding the full extent of human exposure to PFASs via these complex mixtures requires innovative analytical methodologies, including high-resolution mass spectrometry for suspect screening and nontarget analysis.

In this study, a mouse model was dosed with a commercial AFFF mixture. Serum and urine samples from dosed mice were analyzed by quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (QToF-MS). Suspect screening was conducted using an extensive in-house extracted ion chromatogram (XIC) list and fragmentation library for hundreds of AFFF-associated PFASs. Screening of serum revealed that several substituted perfluoroalkyl sulfonates, for which no toxicological data is available, were enriched in blood from AFFF-dosed mice.

Screening of urine revealed a mixture of PFASs distinct from those accumulating in the blood, with normalized peak areas increasing steadily over the exposure period. Additionally, non-target analysis of mouse serum revealed the presence of fluorinated compounds that were not included in the original suspect screening list and had not been detected previously in the AFFF product. This highlights the use of in vivo models as an effective tool for prioritizing novel bioaccumulative PFASs that may be overlooked because they are minor components in drinking water and AFFF products.

Related Publications

McDonough, C. A.; Guelfo, J. L.; Higgins, C. P. Measuring total PFASs in water: The tradeoff between selectivity and inclusivity. Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health. 2018. 7, 13-18. DOI: 10.1016/j.coesh.2018.08.005.

 

The PFAS-AWARE Study: PFASs in Drinking Water and Human Serum from an AFFF-Impacted Community in El Paso County, CO

PFASs have become ubiquitous water pollutants due to their remarkable persistence. More information is rapidly needed to understand health risks posed by widespread, long-term contamination of drinking water by PFAS-containing aqueous firefighting foams (AFFFs).

This study investigated PFAS contamination of public water systems in El Paso County, Colorado. Wells in this area were found to be contaminated with PFASs from AFFF above EPA health advisory levels between 2013 and 2016. Raw drinking water and human serum from throughout this region were collected from April to June, 2018. Serum samples were re-collected from a subset of the initial cohort one year later to track changes in PFAS levels after exposure ended. All samples  were analyzed via quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (QToF-MS) suspect screening to understand the extent of PFAS contamination in human blood resulting from this exposure. Data were screened for >1000 previously characterized and theoretical AFFF-associated PFASs using a high-resolution mass spectral (HRMS) library and an extensive extracted ion chromatogram (XIC) list.

Suspect screening of drinking water samples using HRMS libraries tentatively revealed the presence of cyclic/unsaturated perfluoroalkyl sulfonates as well as sulfonamide precursors. Screening of human serum samples revealed that the average concentration of perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS; 25 ng/mL) was elevated compared to the general population as well as most previous data from impacted communities, and showed that C5-C8 sulfonates were prominent and ubiquitous in blood from residents. Suspect screening suggests the presence of additional PFASs, such as chloro- and oxy-PFSAs that have previously been seen in blood from occupationally-exposed firefighters.

Related Publications

Barton, K.; Starling, A.; Higgins, C. P.; McDonough, C. A.; Calafat, A.; Adgate, J. Sociodemographic and behavioral determinants of serum concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in a community highly exposed to aqueous film-forming foam contaminants in drinking water. Int. J. Hyg. Environ. Health. 2019. In press. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2019.07.012

 

Past Projects

Depth profiles of Organophosphate Flame Retardants in the Remote Ocean

Dissolved organophosphate esters and polybrominated diphenyl ethers in remote marine environments: Arctic surface water distributions and net transport through Fram Strait

 

Passive sampling to Understand Contaminant Dynamics in the Great Lakes

Aryl hydrocarbon receptor‐mediated activity of gas‐phase ambient air derived from passive sampling and an in vitro bioassay

 

 

Polycyclic musks in the air and water of the lower Great Lakes: spatial distribution and volatilization from surface waters

 

 

 

Spatial distribution and air–water exchange of organic flame retardants in the Lower Great Lakes

 

 

Significance of Population Centers As Sources of Gaseous and Dissolved PAHs in the Lower Great Lakes

 

 

 

 

 

Science Communication

Dr. McDonough has founded two blogs where graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and science professionals work together to summarize recent journal articles for the general public using language anyone with a high school STEM education can understand. She also serves on the Leadership Committee for the ComSciCon series of STEM communication workshops. These graduate student-run workshops provide inspiring and informative experiences in STEM communication to graduate students, free of cost.

Oceanbites, founded in September 2013, is a blog where oceanography graduate students and postdoctoral researchers describe the latest in cutting-edge oceanography research for the broader public.

Envirobites, which began publishing content in August 2017, is a blog where graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and environmental professionals write posts describing recent research in environmental science topics, including urban pollution, toxicology, and climate change. Dr. McDonough co-founded this blog with Dr. Laura Schifman, Ph.D.

Publications

Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals

2019

  1. McDonough, C. A.; Franks, D.; Hahn, M. E.; Lohmann, R. Aryl hydrocarbon-mediated activity of gas-phase ambient air derived from passive sampling and an in vitro bioassay.  Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2019. 38, 748-759. DOI: 10.1002/etc.4361
  2. Barton, K.; Starling, A.; Higgins, C. P.; McDonough, C. A.; Calafat, A.; Adgate, J. Sociodemographic and behavioral determinants of serum concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in a community highly exposed to aqueous film-forming foam contaminants in drinking water. Int. J. Hyg. Environ. Health. 2019. In press. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2019.07.012

2018

  1. McDonough, C. A.; Guelfo, J. L.; Higgins, C. P. Measuring total PFASs in water: The tradeoff between selectivity and inclusivity. Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health.  2018. 7, 13-18. DOI: 10.1016/j.coesh.2018.08.005.
  2. McDonough, C. A.; De Silva, A. O.; Sun, C.; Adelman, D.; Soltwedel, T.; Bauerfiend, E.; Muir, D. C. G.; Lohmann, R. Dissolved organophosphate esters in North Atlantic depth profiles and Canadian Arctic surface waters. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2018. 52, 6208-6216. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b01127
  3. Ma, Y.; Adelman, D.; Bauerfeind, E.; Cabrerizo, A.; McDonough, C. A.; Muir, D. C. G.; Soltwedel, T.; Sun, C.; Wagner, C.; Sunderland, E.; Lohmann, R. Concentrations and water mass transport of legacy POPs in the Arctic Ocean. Geophys. Res. Lett. 2018. 45 (23), 12972-12981. DOI: 10.1029/2018GL078759
  4. Murray, C. C.; Vatankhah, H.; McDonough, C. A.; Nickerson, A.; Hedtke, T. T.; Higgins, C. P.; Bellona, C. L. Removal of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances using super-fine powder activated carbon and ceramic membrane filtration compared to granular activated carbon. Hazard Mater. 2018. 366, 160-168. DOI: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2018.11.050
  5. Bradley, P.; Kolpin, D.; Romanok, K.; Smalling, K.; Focazio, M.; Brown, J.; Cardon, M.; Carpenter, K.; Corsi, S.; De Cicco, L.; Dietze, J.; Evans, N.; Furlong, E.; Givens, C.; Gray, J.; Griffin, D.; Higgins, C.; Hladik, M.; Iwanowicz, L.; Journey, C.; Kuivila, K.; Masoner, J.; McDonough, C. A.; Meyer, M.; Orlando, J.; Strynar, M.; Weis, C.; Wilson, V. Reconnaissance of mixed organic and inorganic chemicals in private and public supply tap waters at selected residential and workplace sites in the U.S. Sci. Technol. 2018, 52 (23), 13972-13985. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b04622

2016

  1. McDonough, C. A.; Puggioni, G.; Helm. P. A.; Muir, D. C. G.; Lohmann, R. Spatial trends and diffusive air-water exchange of organic flame retardants in the lower Great Lakes. Sci. Technol. 2016. 50, 9133-9141. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b02496
  2. McDonough, C. A.; P. A.; Muir, D. C. G.; Puggioni, G.; Lohmann, R. Polycyclic musks in the air and water of the lower Great Lakes: Spatial distribution and volatilization from surface waters. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2016. 50, 11575-11583. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03657
  3. Liu, Y.; Wang, S.; McDonough, C. A.; Khairy, M.; Muir, D. C. G.; Helm, P.; Lohmann, R. Estimation of uncertainty in air-water exchange flux and gross volatilization loss of PCBs: A case study based on passive sampling in the lower Great Lakes. Sci. Technol. 2016. 50, 10894-10902. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b02891

2015

  1. Liu, Y.; Wang, S.; McDonough, C. A.; Khairy, M. ; Muir, D. C. G. ; Helm, P. ; Lohmann, R. Gaseous and freely dissolved PCBs in the lower Great Lakes based on passive sampling: Spatial trends, sources, and air-water exchange. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2015. 10, 4932-4939. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b04586 

2014

  1. McDonough, C. A.; Khairy, M.; Muir, D. C. G.; Lohmann, R. Significance of population centers as sources of gaseous and dissolved PAHs in the lower Great Lakes. Sci. Technol. 2014. 48, 7789-7797. DOI: 10.1021/es501074r

 

Magazine/Blog Articles

Toxic chemicals are being freed from melting glaciers – Massive Science

Where have all the insects gone? – envirobites.org

About Carrie

I am a chemical oceanographer and analytical chemist working at the intersection of environmental organic chemistry, environmental engineering, and public health. I received my B.Sc. in Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2008, and my Ph.D. in Chemical Oceanography from the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography (URI GSO) in 2017. I use cutting-edge environmental monitoring and analytical chemistry techniques to study the fate, transport, and biological effects of anthropogenic organic contaminants in aquatic environments. Broadly, I am interested in how the molecular structure and chemical properties of pollutants influence their fate in the environment, as well as their biological effects in aquatic organisms and humans. My overarching objective is to understand human and ecosystem health risk associated with organic contaminants in water and to identify particular compounds of concern that should be prioritized for remediation and toxicological investigation.