Physical separations were employed to characterize the source of desorption-resistant behavior for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in laboratory- and field-contaminated sediments. Size and density separation of laboratory-contaminated sediments did not effectively separate the amorphous-phase (volatile) and condensed-phase (nonvolatile) organic carbon as measured by thermal oxidation at 375°C. These separations also did not result in sediment fractions with significantly different desorption characteristics as measured by apparent partition coefficients. Coarse particles from a field-contaminated sediment from Utica Harbor (UH; Utica, NY, USA), however, could be directly separated into sandy fractions and organic fractions that were composed of woody organic matter, charcoal or charred vegetative matter, and coal-like and coal-cinder particles. Chemical analysis showed that coal-like (glassy, nonporous) and coal-cinder (porous, sintered) particles exhibited very high PAH concentrations and high apparent partition coefficients. These particles also exhibited significantly higher condensed-phase (nonvolatile) organic carbon contents as defined by thermal oxidation at 375°C. The apparent partition coefficients of PAHs in the coal-cinder particles were a good indication of the apparent partition coefficients in the desorption-resistant fraction of UH sediment, indicating that the coarse particles provided a reasonable characterization of the desorption-resistance phenomena in these sediments even though the coarse fractions represented less than 25% of the organic carbon in the whole sediment.
- Condensed-phase organic matter
- Desorption resistance
- Hydrophobic organic contaminants