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Desorption behaviour of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons after long-term storage of two harbour sludges from the port of Rotterdam, The Netherlands

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The desorption behaviour of 16 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in sludges from two sites of the port of Rotterdam, The Netherlands, which are designated to be stored in a subaqueous sludge depository, was investigated after a storage time of 14 years at 4 °C under anaerobic conditions in the dark, mimicking depository conditions. Such long-term storage is believed to effect the desorption of the PAHs.

Materials and methods

Batch desorption experiments over a time period of 130 days were performed with the brackish Beerkanaal (BK) sludge and the freshwater Beneden Merwede River (BMR) sludge. The organic carbon–water partitioning coefficient (K OC) values were calculated and compared to values of a previous study on the same sludges after a storage time of 3 years and to values obtained from calculations based on octanol–water partitioning coefficient (K OW) values. Additionally, the organic matter of the sludges was characterised by C and N elemental analysis and solid-state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Results and discussion

Only desorption of low molecular weight PAHs up to pyrene was detected. Several K OC values were higher compared to the values from the previous study, and all were increased compared to values based on K OW values. It is assumed that the increase in K OC was an effect of the prolonged contact time, causing slow intradomain diffusion of PAHs into the condensed carbon domains. Desorption was higher in BK than in BMR, which is explained by differences in organic matter composition because BMR (containing predominantly aromatic carbon) and BK (which was dominated by lipids) contained the same amount of organic carbon. It is inferred that lipids compete with PAHs for sorption sites on the aromatic carbon, so that lipids block these sorption sites, and the PAHs are adsorbed to the lipids.


Since the amounts of PAHs desorbed from both sludges in this study were so low, it is supposed that long-term storage of these sludges in subaqueous depositories will likely result in increased sorption and thus a reduced release of these contaminants into the environment over time.

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We thank Bärbel Angres (Technische Universität München) for technical assistance. Sabine Pols acknowledges an Erasmus-placement grant for her stay in Freising-Weihenstephan. Tom Bosma was partially supported by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in the framework of the SOWACOR Centre in Development at Utrecht University (grant no. KUK-C1-017-12). We thank the submission editor and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments to improve the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Katja Heister.

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Responsible editor: Trudy J. Estes

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Heister, K., Pols, S., Loch, J.P.G. et al. Desorption behaviour of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons after long-term storage of two harbour sludges from the port of Rotterdam, The Netherlands. J Soils Sediments 13, 1113–1122 (2013).

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