Hydrophobic organic compounds (HOCs) like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) tend to accumulate in sediment beds when they are released into aquatic environments. Due to this buildup of HOCs in the sediment, the highest water concentrations are often in the pore water. Passive samplers can be used in the field (i.e., in situ) to measure freely dissolved porewater concentrations if target contaminants diffusing through the sediment and into the sampler exhibit the same diffusive retardation factors as performance reference compounds (PRCs) that are diffusing out of the sampler and into the sediment. To test this assumption, polyethylene (PE) passive samplers were placed in an organic- and black- carbon-rich sediment bed in the laboratory with samplers removed every 30 days for 4 months. The concentrations of target contaminants in the PE at each time point, corrected using measures of the losses of PRCs, were in good agreement with separately measured equilibrium concentrations in a well-mixed system. Concentrations in the PE passive samplers, normalized by their polyethylene-water partition coefficients, were also in good agreement with directly measured porewater concentrations. Finally, PE-deduced porewater concentrations were compared with the traditional equilibrium partitioning models and showed that considering sorption to only organic carbon substantially overestimated porewater concentrations. However, predictions improved greatly if sorption to black carbon was also considered.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry