Quaternary ammonium compounds in urban estuarine sediment environments--a class of contaminants in need of increased attention?

Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Oct 1;44(19):7561-8. doi: 10.1021/es1011669.


The distributions of wastewater-derived quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) were determined in surficial sediments (n = 47) collected from the urbanized lower Hudson River basin. The most abundant class of QACs were dialkyldimethylammonium compounds (DADMACs, with C8 to C18 carbon chain lengths; median ΣDADMAC = 26 μg/g), followed by benzylalkyldimethylammonium compounds (BAC, C12-C18; 1.5 μg/g), and alkyltrimethylammonium compounds (ATMAC, primarily C16 and C18; 0.52 μg/g). The concentrations of total QACs are higher than those of other conventional organic contaminants determined on the same samples (e.g., median ΣPAH level of 2.1 μg/g). Comparatively high concentrations, correlations with sewage derived contaminants, and the relatively constant compositions of QACs observed over large areas suggest that many sediment-sorbed QACs can be relatively persistent in receiving waters. Unusually large concentration-dependent sorption is considered as a mechanism that likely affects persistence of these intrinsically biodegradable chemicals under field conditions. There has been comparatively little field-based research on these classes of cationic surfactants; given the levels of QACs observed here, it is suggested that further investigation is warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Fresh Water / chemistry
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / analysis*
  • Sewage
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / chemistry*


  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • Sewage
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical