Binding of ionic surfactants to purified humic acid

L.K. Koopal, T.P. Goloub, T.A. Davis

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72 Citations (Scopus)


The binding of organic contaminants to dissolved humic acids reduces the free concentration of the contaminants in the environment and also may cause changes to the solution properties of humic acids. Surfactants are a special class of contaminants that are introduced into the environment either through wastewater or by site-specific contamination. The amphiphilic nature of both surfactants and humic acids can easily lead to their mutual attraction and consequently affect the solution behavior of the humics. Binding of an anionic surfactant (sodium dodecyl sulfate, SDS) and two cationic surfactants (dodecyl- and cetylpyridinium chloride, DPC and CPC) to purified Aldrich humic acid (PAHA) is studied at pH values of 5, 7, and 10 in solutions with a 0.025 M ionic strength (I). Monomer concentrations of the surfactants are measured with a surfactant-selective electrode. At I=0.025 M, no significant binding is observed between the anionic surfactant (SDS) and PAHA, whereas the two cationic surfactants (DPC, CPC) bind strongly to PAHA over the pH range investigated. The binding is due both to electrostatic and hydrophobic attraction. The initial affinity increases with increasing pH (i.e., negative charge of PAHA) and tail length of the surfactant. Binding reaches a pseudo-plateau value (2-5 mmol/g) when the charge associated with PAHA is neutralized by that of the bound surfactant molecules. The pseudo-plateau values for DPC and CPC are very similar and depend on the solution pH. The cationic surfactant-PAHA complexes precipitate when the charge neutralization point is reached. This occurs at approximately 10% of the critical micelle concentration or CMC. This type of phase separation commonly occurs during surfactant binding to oppositely charged polyelectrolytes. For CPC, the precipitation is complete, but in the case of DPC, a noticeable fraction of PAHA remains in solution. At very low CPC concentrations (less than 0.1% of the CMC), CPC binding to PAHA is cooperative. The investigated range of concentrations for DPC was too limited to reach a similar conclusion. The results of this study demonstrate that the fate of humic acids will be strongly affected by the presence of low cationic surfactant concentrations in aqueous environmental systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)360-367
JournalJournal of Colloid and Interface Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • natural organic-matter
  • hydrophobic alternating copolymers
  • cationic surfactants
  • electromotive-force
  • mineral particles
  • maleic-acid
  • adsorption
  • substances
  • water
  • soil


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