Diffusive flux of PAHs across sediment-water and water-air interfaces at urban superfund sites

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2017 Sep;36(9):2281-2289. doi: 10.1002/etc.3785. Epub 2017 Apr 4.


Superfund sites may be a source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to the surrounding environment. These sites can also act as PAH sinks from present-day anthropogenic activities, especially in urban locations. Understanding PAH transport across environmental compartments helps to define the relative contributions of these sources and is therefore important for informing remedial and management decisions. In the present study, paired passive samplers were co-deployed at sediment-water and water-air interfaces within the Portland Harbor Superfund Site and the McCormick and Baxter Superfund Site. These sites, located along the Willamette River (Portland, OR, USA), have PAH contamination from both legacy and modern sources. Diffusive flux calculations indicate that the Willamette River acts predominantly as a sink for low molecular weight PAHs from both the sediment and the air. The sediment was also predominantly a source of 4- and 5-ring PAHs to the river, and the river was a source of these same PAHs to the air, indicating that legacy pollution may be contributing to PAH exposure for residents of the Portland urban center. At the remediated McCormick and Baxter Superfund Site, flux measurements highlight locations within the sand and rock sediment cap where contaminant breakthrough is occurring. Environ Toxicol Chem 2017;36:2281-2289. © 2017 SETAC.

Keywords: Fate and transport; Flux; Passive sampling; Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); Superfund.

MeSH terms

  • Air / analysis*
  • Cities
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Hazardous Waste Sites*
  • Oregon
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / chemistry*
  • Rivers / chemistry*
  • Water / chemistry*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / chemistry*


  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Water