Black carbon: The reverse of its dark side

A.A. Koelmans, M.T.O. Jonker, G. Cornelissen, T.D. Bucheli, P.C.M. van Noort, O. Gustafsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

473 Citations (Scopus)


The emission of black carbon is known to cause major environmental problems. Black carbon particles contribute to global warming, carry carcinogenic compounds and cause serious health risks. Here, we show another side of the coin. We review evidence that black carbon may strongly reduce the risk posed by organic contaminants in sediments and soils. Extremely efficient sorption to black carbon pulls highly toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, polybrominated diphenylethers and pesticides into sediments and soils. This increased sorption is general, but strongest for planar (most toxic) compounds at environmentally relevant, low aqueous concentrations. Black carbon generally comprises about 9% of total organic carbon in aquatic sediments (median value of 300 sediments), and then may reduce uptake in organisms by up to two orders of magnitude. This implies that current environmental risk assessment systems for these contaminants may be unnecessarily safe.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-377
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • polycyclic aromatic-hydrocarbons
  • sediment accumulation factors
  • soot-like materials
  • polychlorinated-biphenyls pcbs
  • maximum adsorption capacities
  • hydrophobic organic-chemicals
  • free-energy relationships
  • phenanthrene sorption
  • marine-sediments
  • physico


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