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Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) commonly occur in wastes from pyrolysis of biogenic fuels. Because some PAH are known carcinogens, an understanding of their environmental behavior and persistence is critical to determining their potential hazard to man. While many processes may remove or transform PAH in aquatic ecosystems, several may be particularly important in determining the fate of PAH in most systems. Laboratory measurement of the rates of various processes under controlled conditions are identifying those critical parameters of environmental transport where more detailed research is necessary.
Anthracene was selected as a representative PAH because of its intermediate molecular weight and its lack of carinogenicity. The rate of photolysis, hydrolysis, volatilization, and microbial degradation of anthracene were measured under different environmental conditions, using fluorimetric and radiotracer techniques. The equilibrium constants for processes such as sorption and bioaccumulation were also determined.
The results of the study indicated that photolysis and microbial degradation within the water column are likely to be the dominant pathways of anthracene removal from aquatic systems. More research is needed to ascertain the degree to which the microbial degradation rates observed in this study are representative of other PAH-contaminated systems. Further study of the role of microbial degradation in bedded sediments in the removal of PAHs from the water column is also necessary.
anthracene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, transformation, persistence, degradation, transport, volatilization, photolysis, microbial degradation, bioaccumulation, aquatic toxicology
Research Associate, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tenn.