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Betulinol and wood sterols in sediments contaminated by pulp and paper mill effluents: dissolution and spatial distribution


The goal was to determine dissolution potency of betulinol and wood sterols (WSs) from pulp and paper mill-contaminated sediments and the current stratification for assessment the load due to potential erosion in the river-like watercourse. Both compounds are wood extractives, which may be toxic to benthos and fish. This research continues a study in which other wood extractives, resin acids and their derivative, retene, were analysed. Sediments were collected from 1, 3.5, 12, 15, and 33 km downstream from the pulp and paper mills, and from 2 upstream reference sites. The dissolution potency into sediment–water elutriates (1 + 4 v/v) was studied by two agitation times and temperatures. The vertical amounts of extractives were determined from the uppermost 20 cm of sediment. The amounts of extractives potentially released were estimated from the sediment layers 0–2 and 2–5 cm by using spatial interpolation. According to the interpolation, the total amount of betulinol and β-sitosterol was calculated as kg/ha in the whole sediment area. Significant concentrations of betulinol (1,666 μg/g, dw) and WSs (2,886 μg/g, dw) were measured from the sediments. According spatial interpolation, the highest calculated amount of betulinol (4,726 kg/ha) and that of the most abundant WS, β-sitosterol (3,571 kg/ha), were in the lake where the effluents were discharged. In the dissolution experiment, the highest concentration of betulinol in sediment (0–10 cm) and elutriate was 412 μg/g (dw) and 165 μg/l, respectively. For WSs, concentrations were 768 μg/g (dw) in sediment and 273 μg/l in elutriate. In a worst-case scenario, betulinol may be desorbed to water in concentrations which are hazardous to aquatic animals. Instead WSs are not a risk in this study area. The amount of desorption varied depending on the concentration of contaminants in sediment, the nature of disturbance, and the sediment organic carbon content.

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We would like to show our appreciation to the University of Jyväskylä and the Academy of Finland for financing this project (7109823 to A.O.). In addition, we wish to thank Marja Lahti for informational help as well as Mervi Koistinen and Leena Siitonen for their technical assistance.

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Correspondence to H. Ratia.

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Equal contribution as the first author: Heli Ratia and Heli Rämänen

Responsible editor: Leif Kronberg

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Ratia, H., Rämänen, H., Lensu, A. et al. Betulinol and wood sterols in sediments contaminated by pulp and paper mill effluents: dissolution and spatial distribution. Environ Sci Pollut Res 20, 4562–4573 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-012-1381-3

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  • Betulinol
  • β-sitosterol
  • Dissolution
  • Pulp and paper mill effluents
  • Wood extractives
  • Wood sterol (WS)