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Environ Sci Technol. 2004 Oct 15;38(20):5458-64.

Addition of carbon sorbents to reduce PCB and PAH bioavailability in marine sediments: physicochemical tests.

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  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305-4020, USA.


The addition of activated carbon as particulate sorbent to the biologically active layer of contaminated sediment is proposed as an in-situ treatment method to reduce the chemical and biological availability of hydrophobic organic contaminants (HOCs) such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). We report results from physicochemical experiments that assess this concept. PCB- and PAH-contaminated sediment from Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco Bay, CA, was contacted with coke and activated carbon for periods of 1 and 6 months. Sediment treated with 3.4 wt % activated carbon showed 92% and 84% reductions in aqueous equilibrium PCB and PAH concentrations, 77% and 83% reductions in PCB and PAH uptake by semipermeable membrane devices (SPMD), respectively, and reductions in PCB flux to overlying water in quiescent systems up to 89%. Adding coke to contaminated sediment did not significantly decrease aqueous equilibrium PCB concentrations nor PCB or PAH availability in SPMD measurements. Coke decreased PAH aqueous equilibrium concentrations by 38-64% depending on coke dose and particle size. The greater effectiveness of activated carbon as compared to coke is attributed to its much greater specific surface area and a pore structure favorable for binding contaminants. The results from the physicochemical tests suggest that adding activated carbon to contaminated field sediment reduces HOC availability to the aqueous phase. The benefit is manifested relatively quickly under optimum contact conditions and improves in effectiveness with contact time from 1 to 6 months. Activated carbon application is a potentially attractive method for in-situ, nonremoval treatment of marine sediment contaminated with HOCs.

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