Attenuation of polychlorinated biphenyl sorption to charcoal by humic acids

A.A. Koelmans, B. Meulman, T. Meijer, M.T.O. Jonker

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Strong sorption to black carbon may limit the environmental risks of organic pollutants, but interactions with cosorbing humic acid (HA) may interfere. We studied the attenuative effect of HA additions on the sorption of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to a charcoal. "Intrinsic" sorption to HA-amended charcoal was calculated by subtracting the sorption contribution of HA from the total sorption to charcoal and HA. Association of PCBs with HA was proportional to hydrophobicity. However the planar PCBs 77 and 126 had an additional 2-4 times stronger association than expected from hydrophobicity alone. Sorption isotherms for the raw charcoal fitted slightly better to a three-parameter Polanyi-Dubinin-Manes model than to a two-parameter Langmuir model. Preloading the charcoal with 1-75 mg of HA/g of charcoal increasingly attenuated sorption to charcoal with up to a factor of 10. The resultant isotherms could be described adequately with the Freundlich model. Isotherm nonlinearity increased with HA loading, suggesting increased sorption competition between HA and PCBs. Attenuation was negligible in the PCB picogram per liter to nanogram per liter range and increased at higher PCB concentrations, which points to saturation of binding sites on the charcoal. Attenuation was highest for planar congeners, which suggests an additional site blockage mechanism. These variations due to HA loading and PCB concentration can explain the variability in attenuation reported in earlier work and imply that the use of constant "attenuation factors" to adjust sorption coefficients determined for pure carbonaceous materials in order to apply them to field situations may not be warranted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)736-742
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • environmental black carbon
  • dissolved organic-matter
  • soot-like materials
  • activated carbon
  • adsorptive properties
  • pore blockage
  • sediments
  • pcbs
  • substances
  • water

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