Phenanthrene sorption to structurally modified humic acids

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Several studies emphasize the importance of soil organic matter characteristics in hydrophobic contaminant sorption and outline the strong dependence of sorption on organic matter aromaticity. In this study, the role of organic matter aromaticity in phenanthrene sorption was investigated using humic acids (HAs) from compost, peat, and soil that were structurally modified by bleaching, hydrolysis, oximation, and subcritical water extraction. The HAs were characterized with cross polarization magic angle spinning carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance (CPMAS 13C NMR) spectroscopy and used in batch equilibrations with phenanthrene. Bleaching substantially reduced the aromaticity of the samples whereas the other treatments increased the relative aromaticity. Phenanthrene sorption increased, even though there was a substantial reduction in sorbent aromaticity with some samples. The HAs that exhibited comparable CPMAS 13C NMR spectra and aromaticity did not behave similarly with respect to phenanthrene sorption. When the sorption data (Koc values) were correlated to sample aromaticity, the correlation coefficients (r2) did not exceed 0.39. Comparisons with the atomic H to C ratio provided slightly better r2 values (up to 0.54). This study demonstrates that macroscopic sorbent characteristics could not explain the observed phenanthrene sorption coefficients, aliphatic structural components of HAs can contribute appreciably to phenanthrene sorption, and organic matter physical conformation may regulate access to organic matter structures. Therefore, the use of only macroscopic sorbent properties, such as aromaticity, to predict and rationalize sorption values cannot solely be used to explain the behavior of organic contaminants in soil environments.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1750-1758
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2003


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