Detecting air-water and surface-deep water gradients of PCBs using polyethylene passive samplers

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Polyethylene passive samplers (PEs) were deployed in a vertical array (bottom water, surface water, near-surface air) to study the cycling of active polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) between reservoirs in an urban estuary (Narragansett Bay, RI), from May to November 2006. Performance reference compounds were used to account for nonequilibrium of PCBs in PEs. Activity gradients were established from direct comparisons of temperature, salt, and nonequilibrium corrected PE concentrations. The uncertainty of determining air-water gradients was <70%, and <50% within the water column. Except during the height of summer, PCB activities were up to 30 times higher in the air than in the surface water, but closer to equilibrium in the water column. Surface waters became depleted in PCBs during periods of highest temperature and stratification, leading to the uptake of gaseous PCBs. Our results demonstrate that passive samplers are powerful tools to determine the flux directions of organic contaminants in the environment. © 2008 American Chemical Society.

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Environmental Science and Technology