Challenges of using polyethylene passive samplers to determine dissolved concentrations of parent and alkylated PAHs under cold and saline conditions

Pamela J Reitsma, Dave Adelman, Rainer Lohmann
Environmental Science & Technology 2013 September 17, 47 (18): 10429-37
Passive samplers can be useful tools for determining truly dissolved concentrations of organic contaminants in the water. Polyethylene (PE) samplers were validated for measuring polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), with a focus on alkylated PAHs that can dominate in an oil spill. Equilibrium partition coefficients between water and PE passive samplers (KPEw) were measured for 41 PAHs both at ambient conditions (20 °C, no salt) and down to -15 °C with up to 245 psu present in ice brine. For each additional alkylated carbon, log KPEw increased by an average of 0.40 (±0.20) log units, close to predictions. The increase per aromatic carbon was only 0.33 (±0.02) log units. Apparent PE-water distributions of pyrene and deuterated pyrene (performance reference compound) were within 0.1 log unit for all experiments at 20 and 2 °C but started to diverge by 0.8 log units at -4 °C (100 psu) and by 3.1 log units at -15 °C (245 psu). The delay in equilibrating PAHs in these experiments was dominated by increases in the water viscosity, which, in turn, affected both the aqueous diffusivities of the PAHs and the thickness of the water boundary layer. In a simulated marine oil spill in the laboratory, PE-based results were within a factor of 2 of conventional sampling results for the most abundant PAHs.

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