Nonlinear and competitive sorption of apolar compounds in black carbon-free natural organic materials

Joseph J. Pignatello, Yuefeng Lu, Eugene J. LeBoeuf, Weilin Huang, Jianzhong Song, Baoshan Xing

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74 Scopus citations


Numerous studies have reported a spectrum of sorption phenomena in soils, sediments, and organic matter isolates of those materials that are inconsistent with a partition model proposed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a model predicated on a hypothesis that sorption is linear and noncompetitive. To explain these nonideal phenomena, prior studies have proposed a hard-soft (glassy-rubbery) model for SOM (soil and sediment organic matter), while others have attributed them singularly to BC (black carbon: soot and charcoal) particles present in topsoils and sediments. In this study, we demonstrated non-ideal sorption behavior (isotherm nonlinearity, competitive effects) for a group of apolar compounds in a large set of natural and model organic materials, including a commercial lignin and humic acids from different sources. Complete oxidation of samples by an acidic dichromate metliod was taken to signify the absence of BC. (However, polymethylene units are stable even if functionaized on both ends, making the technique unreliable for quantifying BC.) Other samples were inferred free of BC by their source and method of preparation. Characterization by thermalanalytical methods indicated the glassy character of the organic materials. The origin of the nonideal behaviors appears to be the glassy character of these materials. Sorption nonlinearity increased or decreased by changing temperature, cosolvent content, or degree of cross-linking by metal ions as predicted for organic solids in a glassy state. We conclude that macromolecular humic substances in the environment may exhibit nonideal sorption behavior in soils and sediments, quite apart from any such behaviors attributable to BC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1049-1059
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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