Biosensor applications in contaminated estuaries: Implications for disaster research response

Environ Res. 2022 Mar;204(Pt A):111893. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.111893. Epub 2021 Aug 19.


Background: Given the time and monetary costs associated with traditional analytical chemistry, there remains a need to rapidly characterize environmental samples for priority analysis, especially within disaster research response (DR2). As PAHs are both ubiquitous and occur as complex mixtures at many National Priority List sites, these compounds are of interest for post-disaster exposures.

Objective: This study tests the field application of the KinExA Inline Biosensor in Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel (GB/HSC) and in the Elizabeth River, characterizing the PAH profiles of these region's soils and sediments. To our knowledge, this is the first application of the biosensor to include soils.

Methods: The biosensor enables calculation of total free PAHs in porewater (C free), which is confirmed through gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis. To determine potential risk of the collected soils the United States Environmental Protection (USEPA) Agency's Regional Screening Level (RSL) Calculator is used along with the USEPA Region 4 Ecological Screening Values (R4-ESV) and Refined Screening Values (R4-RSV).

Results: Based on GC-MS results, all samples had PAH-related hazard indices below 1, indicating low noncarcinogenic risks, but some samples exceeded screening levels for PAH-associated cancer risks. Combining biosensor-based C free with Total Organic Carbon yields predictions highly correlated (r > 0.5) both with total PAH concentrations as well as with hazard indices and cancer risks. Additionally, several individual parent PAH concentrations in both the GB/HSC and Elizabeth River sediments exceeded the R4- ESV and R4-RSV values, indicating a need for follow-up sediment studies.

Conclusions: The resulting data support the utility of the biosensor for future DR2 efforts to characterize PAH contamination, enabling preliminary PAH exposure risk screening to aid in prioritization of environmental sample analysis.

Keywords: Biosensor; DR2; PAHs; Porewater; Screening.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biosensing Techniques*
  • Disasters*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Estuaries
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons* / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis


  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical