Relations between environmental black carbon sorption and geochemical sorbent characteristics

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Environ Sci Technol, Volume 38, Number 13, p.3632-40 (2004)


0013-936X (Print)

Accession Number:



Adsorption, Carbon/analysis/ chemistry, Chemical Fractionation, Finland, Geologic Sediments/ analysis, Models, Chemical, Netherlands, Nitrogen/analysis, Particle Size, Phenanthrenes/ chemistry/toxicity, Polycyclic Hydrocarbons, Aromatic/chemistry/toxicity, Soil Pollutants/ analysis


Pyrogenic carbon particles in sediments (soot and charcoal, collectively termed "black carbon" or BC) appear to be efficient sorbents of many hydrophobic organic compounds, so they may play an important role in the fate and toxicity of these substances. To properly model toxicant sorption behavior, it is important to (i) quantify the magnitude of the role of BC in sorption and (ii) elucidate which geochemical BC characteristics determine the strength of environmental BC sorption. Sorption isotherms of d10-phenanthrene (d10-PHE) were determined over a wide concentration range (0.0003-20 microg/L), for five sediments with widely varying characteristics. From the sorption isotherms, we determined Freundlich coefficients of environmental BC sorption, K(F,BCenv. These varied from 10(4.7) to 10(5.5). From the data, it could be deduced that BC was responsible for 49-85% of the total d10-PHE sorption at a concentration of 1 ng/L. At higher concentrations, the importance of BC for the sorption process diminished to <20% at 1 microg/L and 0-1% at 1 mg/L. There were no significant relationships between BC sorption strength and the tested geochemical BC characteristics [the fraction of small (<38 microm) BC particles, the BC resistance to high-temperature oxidation, the fraction of biomass-derived BC, the native polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon and total organic carbon contents]. Because of the limited variation in BC sorption strength with widely varying BC characteristics, the presented BC sorption coefficients may putatively be used as generic starting points for environmental modeling purposes.


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