Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 10, Issue 7, pp 1388–1400 | Cite as

Using solid-phase microextraction to evaluate the role of different carbon matrices in the distribution of PAHs in sediment-porewater systems of the Baltic Sea

  • Gesine Witt
  • Carina Bartsch
  • Gladys A. Liehr
  • Rajko Thiele
  • Michael S. McLachlan



The speciation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sediment-porewater systems affects both the chemical fate and bioavailability of these compounds. PAHs may be dissolved or sorbed to sediment particles or dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Furthermore, soot carbon has been shown to control the sorption of PAHs onto particles in natural waters. The present study investigates the distribution of individual PAHs among these three phases by examining sediments from the western Baltic Sea, focusing on a highly contaminated former dumping area and evaluating the importance of soot-carbon partitioning.

Materials and methods

Freely dissolved concentrations of nine PAHs were measured in the porewater of sediment samples using solid-phase microextraction, a cost- and time-efficient method with detection limits in the lower nanogram per liter range. Additionally, total sediment and total porewater concentration were measured in sediments to calculate the distribution of PAHs between the three compartments. Dissolved organic carbon, total organic carbon, and soot content were analyzed for calculation of partitioning coefficients.

Results and discussion

Soot-carbon control partitioning between the dissolved and particulate phases and the partition coefficients are orders of magnitude higher than would be expected on the basis of organic carbon/water partitioning alone. The carbon-normalized partition coefficient for the distribution of individual PAHs between DOC and the dissolved phase exhibit no more than a weak correlation with hydrophobicity. This indicates that there are different sorption mechanisms at work in DOC than in particulate organic carbon and soot.


The sediment-water partition coefficient is a key parameter in the risk assessment of PAHs in sediments, as it determines the chemical activity of the PAHs in water, which in turn determines bioconcentration. The PAH partitioning observed in this study suggest that partitioning models are of limited value in PAH risk assessment if the sorbents under study differ markedly from those used to develop the model. In such cases, PAH risk assessment should rely on measurements of PAH activity. In this work, we showed how such measurements can be performed in a comparatively simple way.


Bioavailability Chemical activity PAHs Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons Porewater Sediment Solid-phase microextraction 



A considerable number of people have contributed to the work described here. In particular, we would like to thank Astrid Lerz for her support and assistance during the sample preparation and analyses of the sediments and porewater. We also thank the captain and crew of the research vessel Professor Albrecht Penck, and Philipp Mayer for his critical reading of the manuscript and helpful discussions. The support from the German Research Council (DFG) Project Contract No. WI 1410/3-1-2 is gratefully acknowledged.

Supplementary material

11368_2010_287_MOESM1_ESM.doc (44 kb)
Table S1 Freely dissolved pore water concentrations (c free) in the different sediments (mean values of 12 samples and standard deviation) (DOC 44 kb)
11368_2010_287_MOESM2_ESM.doc (44 kb)
Table S2 Total pore water concentrations (c total, sum of freely dissolved and DOC-bound PAHs) of the different sediments (mean values of four samples and standard deviation) (DOC 42 kb)
11368_2010_287_MOESM3_ESM.doc (48 kb)
Table S3 Measured K DOC values for the PAHs (DOC 47 kb)
11368_2010_287_MOESM4_ESM.doc (48 kb)
Table S4 Measured K OC values for PAHs based on freely dissolved concentrations compared to K OC as predicted by the Karickhoff model (DOC 48 kb)
11368_2010_287_MOESM5_ESM.doc (44 kb)
Table S5 Measured K OC values for PAHs based on total porewater concentrations compared to K OC as predicted by the Karickhoff model (DOC 45 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gesine Witt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Carina Bartsch
    • 1
    • 3
  • Gladys A. Liehr
    • 1
    • 4
  • Rajko Thiele
    • 1
  • Michael S. McLachlan
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Leibniz Institute of Baltic Sea ResearchRostockGermany
  2. 2.Hamburg University of Applied SciencesHamburgGermany
  3. 3.Deutsches Akkreditierungssystem Prüfwesen GmbHBerlinGermany
  4. 4.NOAA/SEFSC Protected Resources and BiodiversityMiamiUSA
  5. 5.ITM, Stockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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