Phenanthrene sorption by aliphatic-rich natural organic matter

Myrna J. Salloum, Benny Chefetz, Patrick G. Hatcher*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

264 Scopus citations


Contaminant sorption, an important process that may limit bioavailability, hinder remediation, encourage environmental persistence, and control mobility in the environment, has been the focus of numerous studies. Despite these efforts, the fundamental understanding of sorptive processes in soil and sedimentary environments has not been resolved. For instance, many have suggested that contaminants, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), solely interact with aromatic domains of organic matter. Until now, studies have neglected the aliphatic components that are known to be a recalcitrant and significant part of soil and sedimentary organic matter (SOM). In this investigation, the sorption of phenanthrene to several aliphatic-rich SOM samples was measured. The samples included the following: SOM precursors (algae, degraded algae, cellulose, collagen, cuticle, and lignin), two kerogen samples, and a highly aromatic humic acid. All samples were characterized by cross polarization magic angle spinning carbon-13 (CPMAS 13C) NMR and carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen analysis. Batch experiments demonstrated that the highest organic carbon normalized sorption coefficients (Koc values) were obtained with the Pula kerogen sample (log Koc = 4.88) that only contains 6.5% aromatic carbon. Other aliphatic-rich samples, namely the Green River kerogen, degraded algae, and collagen samples produced comparable log Koc values (4.64, 4.66, and 4.72, respectively) to that of the highly aromatic humic acid (log Koc = 4.67). Phenanthrene uptake was the least for cellulose and lignin, two major soil components. A comparison of phenanthrene Koc values and paraffinic carbon content revealed a positive correlation (Koc = 798 ± 96.1* paraffinic carbon (%), r2 = 0.56) and indicates that amorphous polymethylene carbon is an important consideration in phenanthrene sorption. This study establishes that aliphatic SOM domains have a strong affinity for phenanthrene and likely, other PAHs. Therefore, aliphatic structures, that are an important component of SOM, require more attention in the examination of sorption processes in terrestrial and sedimentary environments.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1953-1958
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 May 2002


Dive into the research topics of 'Phenanthrene sorption by aliphatic-rich natural organic matter'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this