Field application of activated carbon amendment for in-situ stabilization of polychlorinated biphenyls in marine sediment

Environ Sci Technol. 2009 May 15;43(10):3815-23. doi: 10.1021/es802931c.


We report results on the first field-scale application of activated carbon (AC) amendment to contaminated sediment for in-situ stabilization of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The test was performed on a tidal mud flat at South Basin, adjacent to the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco Bay, CA. The major goals of the field study were to (1) assess scale up of the AC mixing technology using two available, large-scale devices, (2) validate the effectiveness of the AC amendment at the field scale, and (3) identify possible adverse effects of the remediation technology. Also, the test allowed comparison among monitoring tools, evaluation of longer-term effectiveness of AC amendment, and identification of field-related factors that confound the performance of in-situ biological assessments. Following background pretreatment measurements, we successfully incorporated AC into sediment to a nominal 30 cm depth during a single mixing event, as confirmed by total organic carbon and black carbon contents in the designated test plots. The measured AC dose averaged 2.0-3.2 wt% and varied depending on sampling locations and mixing equipment. AC amendment did not impact sediment resuspension or PCB release into the water column over the treatment plots, nor adversely impactthe existing macro benthic community composition, richness, or diversity. The PCB bioaccumulation in marine clams was reduced when exposed to sediment treated with 2% AC in comparison to the control plot Field-deployed semi permeable membrane devices and polyethylene devices showed about 50% reduction in PCB uptake in AC-treated sediment and similar reduction in estimated pore-water PCB concentration. This reduction was evident even after 13-month post-treatment with then 7 months of continuous exposure, indicating AC treatment efficacy was retained for an extended period. Aqueous equilibrium PCB concentrations and PCB desorption showed an AC-dose response. Field-exposed AC after 18 months retained a strong stabilization capability to reduce aqueous equilibrium PCB concentrations by about 90%, which also supports the long-term effectiveness of AC in the field. Additional mixing during or after AC deployment, increasing AC dose, reducing AC-particle size, and sequential deployment of AC dose will likely improve AC-sediment contact and overall effectiveness. The reductions in PCB availability observed with slow mass transfer under field conditions calls for predictive models to assess the long-term trends in pore-water PCB concentrations and the benefits of alternative in-situ AC application and mixing strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Animals
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Bivalvia / metabolism
  • Charcoal / chemistry*
  • Geography
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / isolation & purification*
  • Porosity
  • San Francisco
  • Time Factors
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / isolation & purification


  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Charcoal
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls