Our hypothesis that longer-chained perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) outcompete shorter-chained PFAAs during adsorption was tested in this study, wherein the adsorption interactions of six frequently detected PFAAs with kaolinite clay were modeled and examined experimentally using various suspension compositions. Competitive adsorption of PFAAs on the kaolinite surface was observed for the first time, and longer-chained PFAAs outcompeted those with a shorter chain. The electrostatic repulsion between adsorbed PFAA molecules is a primary inhibitory factor in PFAA adsorption. An increase in aqueous sodium or hydrogen ion concentration weakened electrostatic repulsions and changed the adsorption free energy. Therefore, the adsorption of a shorter-chained PFAA with weaker hydrophobicity could occur at high sodium or hydrogen ion concentrations. The experimental and modeling data suggest that the adsorption of shorter-chained PFAAs (≥4 perfluorinated carbons) in freshwater with a typical ionic strength of 10 -2.5 is not thermodynamically favorable. Furthermore, by measuring the electrokinetic potential of kaolinite suspension in the presence of PFAAs, we found that the kaolinite surface became more negatively charged because of the adsorption of PFAAs. This observation indicates that the adsorbed PFAA molecules were within the electrical double layer of the kaolinite surface and that they contributed to the potential at the slipping plane. The possible alignments of adsorbed PFAA molecules on the kaolinite surface were then proposed.
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