This poster came from Sammy Kata’s website. Visit to make your own!



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.

McDonough, C. A., Choyke, S., Ferguson, P. L., DeWitt, J. C., Higgins, C. P. 2020. Bioaccumulation of novel per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances in mice dosed with an aqueous film-forming foam. Environ. Sci. Technol., 54, 5700-5709. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c00234.

McDonough, C. A.; Ward, C.; Hu, Q.; Vance, S.; Higgins, C. P.; DeWitt, J. Immunotoxicity of an electrochemically fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam mixture. Tox. Sci. 2020. 178 (1) 104-114. DOI: 10.1093/toxsci/kfaa138


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.


Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals


  1. Marciano, J. M.; Crawford, L.; Mukhopadhyay, L.; Scott, W.; McElroy, A.; McDonough, C. A. Per/polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in a marine apex predator (white shark, Carcharodon carcharias) in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. ACS Environmental Au, 2024. DOI: 10.1021/acsenvironau.3c00055


  1. Wallis, D. J.; Barton, K. E.; Knappe, D. R. U.; Kotlarz, N.; McDonough, C. A.; Higgins, C. P.; Hoppin, J. A.; Adgate, J. A. Source apportionment of serum PFASs in two highly exposed communities. STOTEN, 2023855 158842 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158842 
  2. Perera, D.; Scott, W.; Smolinski, R.; Mukhopadhyay, L.; McDonough, C. A. Techniques to characterize PFAS burden in biological samples: Recent insights and remaining challenges. Trend in Environmental Analytical Chemistry2023. e00224 DOI: 10.1016/j.teac.2023.e00224


  1. Londhe, K.; Lee, C. S.; McDonough, C. A.; Venkatesan, A. K. The need for testing isomer profiles of perfluoroalkyl substances to evaluate treatment processes. Environ. Sci. Technol. 202256 (22) 15207-15219 DOI:  10.1021/acs.est.2c05518
  2. Koelmel, J.; Stelben, P.; McDonough, C. A.Dukes, D. A.; Aristizabal-Henao, J. J.; Nason, S. L.; Li, Y.; Sternberg, S.; Lin, E.; Beckmann, M.; Williams, A. J.; Draper, J.; Finch, J. P.; Munk, J. K.; Deigl, C.; Rennie, E. E.; Bowden, J. A.; Godri Pollitt, K. J. FluoroMatch 2.0 – Making automated and comprehensive non-targeted PFAS annotation a reality. Analytical & Bioanalytical Chemistry2022. 414 (3) 1201-1215 DOI: 10.1007/s00216-021-03392-7
  3. Charbonnet, J.; McDonough, C. A.; Xiao, F.; Schwichtenberg, T.; Cao, D.; Field, J.; Place, B.; Kaserzon, S.; Helbling, D.; Higgins, C. Non-target identification of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances by high-resolution mass spectrometry: Increasing and communicating certainty. Environmental Science & Technology Letters. 2022. (6) 473-481 DOI:  10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00206
  4. Koelmel, J.; Stelben, P.; Godri, D.; Qi, J.; McDonough, C. A.; Dukes, D. A.; Aristizabal-Henao, J. J.; Bowden, J. A.; Sternberg, S.; Rennie, E. E.; Godri Pollitt, K. J. Interactive software for visualization of non-targeted mass spectrometry data – FluoroMatch visualizer. Exposome. 2022. Accepted.
  5. McDonough, C. A.; Li, W.; Bischel, H. N.; DeWitt, J. C.; De Silva, A. O. Widening the lens on PFASs: Direct human exposure to perfluoroalkyl acid precursors (pre-PFAAs). Environmental Science & Technology. 2022.  56 (10) 6004-6013 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.2c00254
  6. Barton, K.; Zell-Baran, L. M.; DeWitt, J. C.; Brindley, S.; McDonough, C. A.; Higgins, C. P.; Adgate, J. L.; Starling, A. P. Cross-sectional associations between serum PFASs and inflammatory biomarkers in a population exposed to AFFF-contaminated drinking water. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. 113905. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2021.113905


  1. Narizzano, A. M.; Bohannon, M. E.; East, A. G.; McDonough, C. A.; Choyke, S.; Higgins, C. P.; Quinn, M. J. Patterns in serum toxicokinetics in Peromyscus exposed to PFAS. Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry. 2021. 40 (10) 2886-2898 DOI: 10.1002/etc.5151
  2. McDonough, C. A.; Choyke, S.; Barton, K. E.; Mass, S.; Starling, A. P.; Adgate, J.; Higgins, C. P. Unsaturated PFOS (UPFOS) and other PFASs in human serum and drinking water from an AFFF-impacted community. Environmental Science & Technology. 2021. 
  3. Bradley, P.; Padilla, I.; Romanok, K.; Smalling, K.; Focaziod, M.; Breitmeyer; S.; Mardone, M.; Conleye, J.; Evans, N.; Givens, C.; Gray, J.; Graye, L.; Hartige, P.; Higgins, C.; Hladik, M.; Laneh, R.; Lofinj, K.; McCleskey, R.; McDonough, C. A.; Medlock-Kakaleye, E.; Meppelink, S.; Wais, C.; Wilone, V. Tapwater exposures, predicted effects, and potential role in adverse health outcomes in Puerto Rico, USA. Science of the Total Environment. 2021.
  4. Bradley, P.; Padilla, I.; Romanok, K. M.; Smalling, K. L.; Focazio, M. J.; Breitmeyer, S. E.; Cardon, M. C.; Conley, J. M.; Evans, N.; Givens, C. E.; Gray, J. L.; Gray, E.; Hartig, P. C.; Higgins, C. P.; Hladik, M. L.; Iwanowicz, L. R.; Lane, R. F.; Loftin, K. A.; McCleskey, B.; McDonough, C. A.; Medlock-Kakaley, E.; Meppelink, S. M.; Weis, C. P.; Wilson, V. S. Public and Private Tap water: Comparative Analysis of Contaminant Exposure and Potential Risk, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA. Environment International. 2021.
  5. Ali, A. M.; Langberg, H. A.; Hale, S. E.; Kallenborn, R.; Hartz, W. F.; Jenssen, B. M.; Mortensen, A.; Ciesielski, T. M.; McDonough, C. A.; Breedveld, G. D. The fate of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances in a marine food web influenced by land-based sources in the Norwegian Arctic. RSC Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts. 2021.
  6. McDonough, C. A.; Ward, C.; Hu, Q.; Vance, S.; Higgins, C. P.; DeWitt, J. Immunotoxicity of an electrochemically fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam mixture. Toxicological Sciences. 2021.


  1. McDonough, C. A.; Ward, C.; Hu, Q.; Vance, S.; Higgins, C. P.; DeWitt, J. Immunotoxicity of an electrochemically fluorinated aqueous film-forming foam mixture. Tox. Sci. 2020. 178 (1) 104-114. DOI: 10.1093/toxsci/kfaa138
  2. McDonough, C. A.; Choyke, S.; Ferguson, P. L.; DeWitt, J. C.; Higgins, C. P. Bioaccumulation of novel per/polyfluoroalkyl substances in mice dosed with an aqueous film-forming foam. Sci. Technol. 2020. 54, 5700-5709. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c00234
  3. Bradley, P.; Argos, M.; Kolpin, D.; Meppelink, S.; Romanok, K.; Smalling, K.; Focazio, M.; Allen, J.; Dietze, J.; De Vito, M.; Donovan, A.; Evans, N.; Givens, C.; Gray, J.; Higgins, C.; Hladik, M.; Iwanowicz, L.; Journey, C.; Lane, R.; Laughrey, Z.; Loftin, Z.; McCleskey, R.; McDonough, C.; Medlock-Kakaley, E.; Meyer, M.; Putz, A.; Richardson, S.; Stark, A.; Weis, C.; Wilson, V.; Zehraoui, A. Mixed organic and inorganic tapwater exposures and potential effects in greater Chicago area, USA. Tot. Environ. 2020. 719, 137236. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.137236
  4. 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. J. Hyg. Environ. Health. 2020. 223 (1), 256-266. DOI: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2019.07.012


  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. 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


  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. 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


  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


  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 


  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? –

Lab Group

Ph.D. Students

Leenia Mukhopadhyay

I am an environmental chemist from India, currently in the second year of my Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University. I am interested in the fate of organic pollutants in the environment and my work focuses on understanding per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination trends in aquatic animals and environments. I am working on evaluating passive sampling strategies to measure the bioavailable fraction of PFAS in marine sediments. Outside of working in the lab, I enjoy badminton, hiking, and hanging out with my dog, Rocket!




David A. Dukes

David is an environmental engineer with a background in geochemistry. David has a MS in geology from Temple University where he helped develop a method using rare earth element tracers to quantify aeolian transportation rates. He has also spent time working in environmental remediation, addressing contaminated sites throughout New Jersey. David’s current research is focused on the bioaccumulation and metabolites of per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) present in aqueous film forming foams.


Rachel Smolinski

Rachel is a PhD student in the Chemistry department at Carnegie Mellon University. She received her BS in chemistry at the University at Buffalo, where she studied inorganic synthesis of alternative MRI contrast agents. Rachel is interested in the fate, transformation, and persistence of organic contaminants in marine and groundwater environments. She is affiliated with the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook and is currently using high resolution mass spectrometry to identify trace organic contaminants in domestic wastewater and their transformation products in Nitrogen Removing Biofilters.


Undergraduate Researchers

Fangyi Li

Fangyi is an undergraduate Chemical Engineering student with a minor in Biological Sciences enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University.
They have a strong interest in environmental sciences and are currently working on identifying trace organic contaminants in wastewater with Rachel.




Morgan Van Der Linde

I am currently a 3rd year chemistry and engineering and public policy double major, working with Leenia in the lab. My work focuses on qualification and quantification of PFAS in Hudson River Fish samples by use of the time of flight quadrupole LC-MS. I am interested in the fate of organic molecules in the environment especially when related to human exposure. I love skateboarding, painting, and cuddling with my dog, Puck. 


Postdoctoral Scientists 

Dr. Dilani Perera

Dilani received her B.S. degree (with honors) in Chemistry from the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2016, and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Chemistry from the Florida International University in 2021 and 2022, respectively. She joined the McDonough lab in 2023 as a postdoctoral scientist.

Dilani’s previous work focused on developing a novel method to remediate per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in biological systems. Her current work at the McDonough lab focuses on using high-resolution mass spectrometry for targeted and non-targeted screening of PFASs in biological matrices. She is also leading a project to develop an IM – LC/QTOF based method to differentiate PFAS isomers. Outside the lab, Dilani spends time with her two babies Sahansa and Vidvaan.


Dr. Raj Mukhopadhyay [Fulbright-Nehru Fellow]

I am an environmental chemist with a background of soil and water science.  I obtained BS (Agriculture) from Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, West Bengal, India in 2012 and MS (Soil Science) from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India in 2014. I received PhD in Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, India in the year 2018. Prior to join McDonough group, I was working as a Soil Scientist at Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal, India. My previous research works focused on removal of organic and inorganic contaminants (metals, metalloids and emerging contaminants) from soil and water using modified clay minerals, biowastes, and nanomaterials in collaboration with colleagues from Australia, South Korea and Taiwan. Currently, I am working on development of engineered clay mineral adsorbents using naturally available clay minerals and biowastes to remove PFAS from contaminated water and reducing PFAS bioavailability to wheat crop, deciphering an inexpensive and green PFAS remediation method. Outside of working at the lab, I spend time in cooking, hiking and listening to music.


Group Lead

Dr. Carrie McDonough – Assistant Professor of Chemistry

I am a chemical oceanographer and analytical chemist working at the intersection of environmental analytical chemistry, environmental health engineering, and toxicology. 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 completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Colorado School of Mines, where I developed methods for nontarget analysis of per/polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in biological fluids. 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. When I’m not working, I am usually brewing beer and hanging out with my dogs, Millie (pictured here) and Pickles.



Jennifer Marciano, Thesis Master’s 2023 (Current Position: Chemist at Suffolk County Department of Health Services): Per/polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Northern Atlantic White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) Plasma and Muscle

Noor Hamdan, Project Master’s 2022 (Current Position: Ph.D. Student at Johns Hopkins University): Bioaccumulation of Sediment-Associated Per/Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in Marine Polychaetes