The atmosphere as a source/sink of polychlorinated biphenyls to/from the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund site

Jennifer N. Apell, Philip M. Gschwend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Waterbodies polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may cause the air in the surrounding area to become PCB-contaminated. Conversely, when a waterbody is located in or near an urban area, the deposition of atmospheric PCBs may act as a low-level, ongoing source of PCB contamination to that water. Distinguishing these situations is necessary to be protective of human populations and to guide efforts seeking to cleanup such aquatic ecosystems. To assess the situation at the Lower Duwamish Waterway (LDW) Superfund site, low-density polyethylene passive samplers were deployed in the summer of 2015 to quantify freely dissolved water and gaseous air concentrations of PCBs thereby enabling estimates of the direction and magnitude of air-water exchange of PCB congeners. For the sum of the 27 PCB congeners, average concentrations were 220 pg/m3 (95% C.I.: 80–610) in the air and 320 pg/L (95% C.I.: 110–960) in the water. The sum of air-water exchange fluxes of these PCB congeners was estimated to be 68 ng/m2/day (95% C.I.: 30–148) into the lower atmosphere, contrasting with the reported wet and dry depositional flux of only 5.5 ng/m2/day (95% C.I.: 1–38) from the air into the water. Therefore, the atmosphere was ultimately a sink of PCBs from the LDW Superfund site, at least under 2015 summertime conditions. However, we conclude that air-water exchange of PCBs is likely only a minor sink of PCBs from the LDW and only a minor source of contamination to the region's local atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-270
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
StatePublished - 2017


  • Air-water exchange
  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Passive sampling
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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