Partitioning and desorption behavior of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from disparate sources. Academic Article uri icon


  • Contaminated sediments pose a unique challenge for risk assessment or remediation because the overlying water column may transport contaminants offsite or to ecological receptors. This research compares the behavior of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) on marine sediments from two sites. The first site was affected by shipping activities and the second was impacted by a creosote seep. Organic carbon:water partitioning coefficients (Koc values) were measured with three solutions. Desorption was measured using Tenax beads. PAHs from the ship channel had lower Koc values than those from the creosote facility. For example, the average logKoc value of ship channel pyrene was significantly lower than that of creosote facility pyrene (4.39 +/- 0.35 and 5.29 +/- 0.09, respectively, when tested in 5 mM calcium chloride). These results were consistent with the greater desorption of pyrene, phenanthrene and benzo(a)pyrene from the ship channel than from the creosote facility sediments. Organic compound desorption from sediments can be considered to be a two-stage process, with a labile fraction that desorbs quickly and a refractory fraction that desorbs much more slowly. In both sediments, more than 75% of the benzo(a)pyrene was found to have partitioned into the refractory phase. The amounts of phenanthrene and pyrene that partitioned into the refractory phase were lower. Linear correlations of logKoc with log(CR/CL) (where CR and CL are the fractions of the compound in the refractory and labile phases, respectively, at time zero) showed that partitioning measurements made with the US EPA's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure fluid (US EPA, 1996) most closely matched predictions of desorption behavior. The data imply that with a larger data set, it may be possible to relate simple partitioning measurements to desorption behavior. Partitioning measurements were used to predict water concentrations. Despite having higher concentrations of carcinogenic PAHs [cPAHs, the seven PAHs categorized by the US EPA (2004) as class B2 carcinogens], creosote facility sediments were predicted to produce lower aqueous concentrations of cPAHs. These results indicate that both sediment and contaminant characteristics will impact contaminant release from sediments.

published proceedings

  • Sci Total Environ

author list (cited authors)

  • Reeves, W. R., McDonald, T. J., Cizmas, L., & Donnelly, K. C.

citation count

  • 17

complete list of authors

  • Reeves, WR||McDonald, TJ||Cizmas, L||Donnelly, KC

publication date

  • October 2004