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Environmental distribution of PAHs in pine needles, soils, and sediments

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The content of 16 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was determined in 60 samples from three environmental matrices (soils, sediments, and pine needles) in an effort to assess their distribution on a river basin scale.


A sampling campaign was carried out in 2006, selecting urban, industrial, and agricultural sampling sites along the northeast of Spain. Techniques used included pressurized liquid extraction and solid–liquid ultrasonic extraction followed by gas chromatography-electron impact ionization mass spectrometry.


The mean total PAHs concentrations were 290 < 613 < 1,628 ng/g (dry weight) in pine needles, soil, and sediments, respectively. There is a good correspondence between the total concentration of soils and pine needles, as opposed to the levels between sediments and pine needles. The high concentrations found in some Pinus halepensis samples may reflect a superior uptake potential of this species in comparison to the others studied. The three matrices present a very different PAH distribution pattern, with pine needles showing a predominance of the lighter (2-, 3-, and 4-ring) PAHs, whereas 5- and 6-ring PAHs are the most abundant in soils. Sediments display a more heterogeneous pattern, with contributions of all the PAHs but different distribution depending on the site, suggesting a wider range of input sources. Established PAH molecular ratios and principal component analysis were used to identify the origins and profiles of PAHs. While sediments showed a wide range attributed to historical inputs, soils and pine needles confirmed the compartmentalization of the PAHs, with lighter airborne PAHs accumulated in pine needles and heavier ones in soils.


It can be suggested that the monitoring of several matrices is a strong tool to elucidate the contamination sources and accumulation patterns of PAHs. However, given the influence of the matrix type on this assessment, the information should be considered complementary, yet allowing a more comprehensive depiction of the area in question.

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The authors thank Dr. Roser Chaler and Dori Fanjul for their assistance with GC-MS. This research project was founded by the European Union under the Global Change and Ecosystems (FP6) Water Cycle and Soil Related Aspects (AquaTerra, Project number 505428 GOCE). Financial support from Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, project number CTM2005-25168-E and CTM2005-07402-C02-01/TECNO. Alícia Navarro agrees the support by a grant of the Departament d'Universitats, Recerca i Societat de la Informació de la Generalitat de Catalunya (2004FI 00856). Nuno Ratola wishes to thank Fundação da Ciência e Tecnologia (Portugal) for the scholarship SFRH/BPD/67088/2009 and the project PTDC/AGR-CFL/102597/2008. This work reflects only authors' views, and the European Community is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained.

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Correspondence to Nuno Ratola.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Navarro-Ortega, A., Ratola, N., Hildebrandt, A. et al. Environmental distribution of PAHs in pine needles, soils, and sediments. Environ Sci Pollut Res 19, 677–688 (2012).

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  • Sediment
  • Soil
  • Pine needles
  • PAHs
  • Ratios
  • PCA