Comparative floc-bed sediment trace element partitioning across variably contaminated aquatic ecosystems

Environ Sci Technol. 2012 Jan 3;46(1):209-16. doi: 10.1021/es202221u. Epub 2011 Dec 19.


Significantly higher concentrations of Ag, As, Cu, Ni and Co are found in floc compared to bed sediments across six variably impacted aquatic ecosystems. In contrast to the observed element and site-specific bed sediment trace element (TE) partitioning patterns, floc TE sequestration is consistently dominated by amorphous oxyhydroxides (FeOOH), which account for 30-79% of floc total TE concentrations, irrespective of system physico-chemistry or elements involved. FeOOH consistently occur in significantly higher concentrations in floc than within bed sediments. Further, comparative concentration factors indicate significantly higher TE reactivity of floc-FeOOH relative to sediment-FeOOH in all systems investigated, indicating that both the greater abundance and higher reactivity of floc-FeOOH contribute to enhanced floc TE uptake. Results indicate that floc-organics (live cells and exopolymeric substances, EPS) directly predict floc-FeOOH concentrations, suggesting an organic structural role in the collection/templating of FeOOH. This, in turn, facilitates the sequestration of TEs associated with floc-FeOOH formation, imparting the conserved FeOOH "signature" on floc TE geochemistry across sites. Results demonstrate that the organic rich nature of floc exerts an important control over TE geochemistry in aquatic environments, ultimately creating a distinct solid with differing controls over TE behavior than bed sediments in close proximity (<0.5 m).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Carbon / analysis
  • Ecosystem*
  • Flocculation
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Hydroxides / chemistry
  • Organic Chemicals / analysis
  • Trace Elements / analysis*
  • Water Pollution / analysis*


  • Hydroxides
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Trace Elements
  • Carbon
  • hydroxide ion