Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 20–29 | Cite as

Membrane Dialysis Extraction (MDE): A Novel Approach for Extracting Toxicologically Relevant Hydrophobic Organic Compounds from Soils and Sediments for Assessment in Biotests



Goal, Scope and Background

Organic solvents are routinely used to extract toxicants from polluted soils and sediments prior to chemical analysis or bioassay. Conventional extraction methods often require the use of heated organic solvents, in some cases under high pressure. These conditions can result in loss of volatile compounds from the sample and the degradation of thermally labile target analytes. Moreover, extracts of soils and sediments also frequently contain substantial quantities of organic macromolecules which can act as sorbing phases for target analytes and in doing so interfere with both chemical analysis and bioassays. Membrane dialysis extraction (MDE) is described as a simple, passive extraction method for selectively extracting toxicologically relevant hydrophobic organic compounds (HOCs) from polluted soils and sediments and anaylzed for its applicability in ecotoxicological investigations.


Toxicologically relevant hydrophobic organic compounds were extracted from wet and dry sediments by sealing replicate samples in individual lengths of pre-cleaned low-density polyethylene (LD-PE) tubing and then dialysing in n-hexane. The efficacy of the MDE method for use in ecotoxicological investigations was assessed by testing the concentrated extracts in the neutral red assay for acute cytotoxicity, in the EROD assay for the presence of dioxin-like compounds and in the Danio rerio fish egg assay for embryotoxic and teratogenic effects. Conditions of the sediment sample (with or without water content), dialysis membrane length and duration of dialysis were analyzed with respect to their impact on three endpoints. Results of the MDE investigations were compared to data obtained in samples prepared using conventional Soxhlet extraction.

Results and Discussion

The membrane dialysis extraction was found to be at least as efficient as Soxhlet methodology to extract toxicologically relevant HOCs from sediment samples. In most cases, MDE-derived extracts showed a higher toxicological potential than the Soxhlet extracts. Lack of any significant effects in any MDE controls indicated these differences were not caused by contamination of the LD-PE membrane used. The elevated toxicological potential of MDE extracts is most likely the result of enhanced bioavailability of toxic compounds in consequence of lower amounts of organic macromolecules (i.e. sorbing phases) in the MDE extracts. This effect is probably the result of a size-selective restriction by the LD-PE membrane.


Membrane dialysis extraction was found to be a simple, efficient and cost-effective method for the extraction of sediment samples. MDE can be used to extract toxicologically relevant hydrophobic organic compounds from both wet and dry sediments without the risk of loosing volatile and thermally labile target analytes. The size-selectivity of the LD-PE membrane also appears to have the capacity to increase the bioavailablity of potential target analytes in the resulting extracts by retaining much of the organic macromolecules present in the sample. Thus, results suggest that MDE may be particularly useful for the extraction of toxicologically relevant hydrophobic organic compounds from soils and sediments for bioassays and other ecotoxicological investigations.

Recommendation and Perspective

Further validation of MDE has been initiated and the applicability of the methodology to other sample types will be investigated. Of particular interest is the potential application of MDE to recover hydrophobic target analytes from biological samples such as muscle, other soft tissues and blood.

cytotoxicity Danio rerio EROD humic substances membrane dialysis extraction (MDE) sediment toxicity soil toxicity Soxhlet 


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Copyright information

© Ecomed 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Thomas-B. Seiler Department of Zoology Aquatic Ecology and Toxicology Group Morphology and Ecology Section University of Heidelberg Im Neuenheimer Feld 230 69120 Heidelberg DEUTSCHLAND  
  2. 2.Andrew Rastall Institute of Hygiene and Medical Microbiology University of Heidelberg Im Neuenheimer Feld 324 D-69120 Heidelberg Germany  
  3. 3.Erik Leist AG Aquatische Ökologie und Toxikologie Zoologisches Institut der Universität Heidelberg INF 230 69120 Heidelberg  
  4. 4.Dr. Lothar Erdinger University of Heidelberg Institute for Hygiene Department for Hygiene and Medical Microbiology Im Neuenheimer Feld 324 D-69120 Heidelberg Germany  
  5. 5.Prof. Dr. Thomas Braunbeck Aquatic Ecology and Toxicology Unit Department of Zoology University of Heidelberg Im Neuenheimer Feld 230 D-69120 Heidelberg Germany  
  6. 6.Dr. Henner Hollert Heidelberger Institut für Zoologie (HIZ) Universität Heidelberg Im Neuenheimer Feld 230 69120 Heidelberg Germany  

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