Distribution and partitioning of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in different size fractions in sediments from Boston Harbor, United States

X C Wang, Y X Zhang, R F Chen
Marine Pollution Bulletin 2001, 42 (11): 1139-49
The concentrations of 16 US EPA priority pollutant polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were analyzed in four size fractions (< 62, 62-125, 125-250, and > 250 microm) in three contaminated Boston Harbor sediments. Total PAH concentrations ranged from 7.3 to 358 microg/g dry wt. and varied largely among the different size fractions in these sediments. For all three sites, the highest PAH concentrations were associated with the large size (> 250 microm) fractions while the fine silt and clay fractions (< 62 microm) contained relatively low PAHs. Despite the great concentration differences, the composition of PAHs in the four size fractions of these sediments showed similar patterns dominated by PAHs with three or more rings. By examining the distribution patterns of selected alkyl homologs to parent compounds, the results indicate that the major PAHs contributing to the high contamination in the inner harbor sediments were from pyrogenic sources. A positive correlation between PAHs and sedimentary organic carbon exists for all size fractions in the sediments. Calculated organic carbon normalized partition coefficients (log K(oc)) for selected major PAHs indicate near-equilibrium partitioning of PAHs among the different size fractions despite their large concentration variations. Sedimentary organic matter associated with different size fractions was the controlling factor for the observed distribution differences of PAHs among the size fractions. Our results also suggest that sedimentary organic matter with different origins and maturities may have somewhat different PAH sorption characteristics. Particulate organic matter of charcoal, plant detritus and Capitella fecal pellets in the sediments appear to sorb PAHs more strongly than organic matter associated with clay minerals. The strong association of PAHs with these organic particles in sediments will have a great influence not only on their distribution but also on long-term environmental impact.

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