, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 69-73
Date: 18 Apr 2007

Partitioning characteristics of PAHs between sediment and water in a shallow lake

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Goal, Scope and Background

Distribution of hydrophobic organic contaminants in abiotic compartments is essential for describing their transfer and fate in aquatic ecosystems. Taihu Lake is the third largest freshwater lake in China. Water quality of Taihu Lake has deteriorated greatly during the last decades and has threatened the water supply. The aim of the present study was to investigate the partitioning of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) among overlying water, suspended particulate matter (SPM), sediments, and pore water in Meiliang Bay, Taihu Lake and to provide useful information for the ecological engineering in this area.

Materials and Methods

Overlying water and surface sediment were sampled from six sites in Meiliang Bay, Taihu Lake, China. Within 72 h of sampling, sediments were centrifuged to obtain the pore water. Overlying water samples were filtered to separate dissolved and SPM samples. After extraction, samples were purified following a clean-up procedure. PAH fraction was obtained by elution with a mixture of hexane: DCM (7:3, V/V) and analyzed by GC/MS.


PAHs concentrations in overlying water varied from 37.5 ng/L to 183.5 ng/L. Concentrations of PAHs in pore water were higher than those in overlying water. The total concentrations of 16 priority PAHs in sediments ranged from 2091.8 ng/g-dw to 4094.4 ng/g-dw. PAHs concentrations on SPM were decreased with suspended solid concentrations (SSC). Total PAHs concentrations on SPM varied in the range of 3369.6 ng/g-dw to 7531.1 ng/g-dw. The partition coefficients between sediment and overlying water (log K oc) for PAHs with log K ow<5 were positively correlated with their octanol-water partition coefficients (log K ow) (n=39, r=0.79, p<0.0001). Partition coefficients between sediment and pore water (log K oc′) for all PAHs were also significantly correlated with their log K ow values (n=48, r=0.82, p<0.0001).


In general, PAHs derived from combustion sources tend to bind strongly to soot particles in natural sediment. Consequentially, K oc values observed in the natural environment could be orders of magnitude higher than those predicted by linear correlation relationships under laboratory conditions. In the present study, the ratio of log K oc values to log K ow values falls consistently above 1, indicating that the sediment soot carbon in the bay was more attractive for PAHs than n-octanol. The log K oc′ was also higher than that predicted under laboratory conditions, suggesting that the measured pore water PAH concentrations were lower than those predicted. That is to say, not all the sediment PAHs can be available to partition rapidly into sediment pore waters. A variation in soot content is a possible reason. Furthermore, concentrations of PAHs on SPM were higher than those in sediments. The compositions of PAHs on SPM and in sediments were similar, indicating the importance of re-suspension process of sediments in the partitioning process of the shallow lake.


The results indicated the equilibrium partitioning model could be used to predict PAHs distribution in various phases of a shallow lake in the stagnation period, but re-suspension processes should be considered to modify the relationship between log K ocs and log K ows.

Recommendations and Perspectives

Concentration, particle size and composition of resuspended particles could affect the relationship between log K ocs and log K ows. Further work should be done under field conditions, especially where a steady thermodynamic equilibrium state could be assumed.