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Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is an environmentally prevalent and persistent organic pollutant with toxic and bioaccumulative properties. Despite the known importance of perfluorinated pollutants in the global environment, molecular-level details of the physicochemical behavior of PFOA on aqueous interfaces remain poorly understood. Here, we utilized two surface-specific techniques, vibrational sum frequency generation spectroscopy (SFG) and surface tensiometry, to investigate the pH-induced structural changes of PFOA and octanoic acid (OA) and determined the apparent pKa at the air–water surface. The SFG spectra and surface activity model were investigated over a wide range of pHs. With the surface tension measurements, the surface pKa values for OA and PFOA are determined to be 3.8 ± 0.1 and 2.2 ± 0.2, respectively. These results could provide insights into improved remediation of PFOAs and may impact climate modeling of perfluorinated alkyl chain molecules.

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