3
Processes

This chapter summarizes the physical, chemical, and biological processes that together comprise the science of contaminant bioavailability in soils and sediments. These processes are strongly influenced by a range of site-specific variables, such as soil or sediment composition, contaminants of concern, and available human or ecological receptor(s), as addressed in detail throughout this chapter. While there is substantial understanding of many of the processes that determine contaminant bioavailability, quantitative models are lacking for most.

The schematic presented as Figure 1-1 is repeated here to emphasize how physical, chemical, and biological processes interact as part of the bioavailability concept. As illustrated in this figure, contaminants may reside in a bound form (associated with soil or sediment particles), a released form (dissolved in a liquid or gas phase), or associated with a living organism. Contaminants become bound to solids as a result of chemical and physical interactions with soils or sediments (A in Figure 1-1). For example, heavy metals in soil or sediment are usually associated with ionic groups of soil surfaces. The strength of association will determine the extent to which contaminant–solid interactions can be disrupted, allowing the contaminant to become more bioavailable. Thus, understanding contaminant–solid interactions is a necessary first step to assessing bioavailability.

To appreciate the importance of this interaction, it is worth noting that for many chemicals of concern the fraction of contaminant mass that resides in the released form is orders of magnitude less than that which may be present in the bound form. For example, in Lake Michigan only 3 percent of the total polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) pool is dissolved in the water column, with the bulk bound in bottom sediments (Pearson et al., 1996). In contrast, Lake Superior,



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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications 3 Processes This chapter summarizes the physical, chemical, and biological processes that together comprise the science of contaminant bioavailability in soils and sediments. These processes are strongly influenced by a range of site-specific variables, such as soil or sediment composition, contaminants of concern, and available human or ecological receptor(s), as addressed in detail throughout this chapter. While there is substantial understanding of many of the processes that determine contaminant bioavailability, quantitative models are lacking for most. The schematic presented as Figure 1-1 is repeated here to emphasize how physical, chemical, and biological processes interact as part of the bioavailability concept. As illustrated in this figure, contaminants may reside in a bound form (associated with soil or sediment particles), a released form (dissolved in a liquid or gas phase), or associated with a living organism. Contaminants become bound to solids as a result of chemical and physical interactions with soils or sediments (A in Figure 1-1). For example, heavy metals in soil or sediment are usually associated with ionic groups of soil surfaces. The strength of association will determine the extent to which contaminant–solid interactions can be disrupted, allowing the contaminant to become more bioavailable. Thus, understanding contaminant–solid interactions is a necessary first step to assessing bioavailability. To appreciate the importance of this interaction, it is worth noting that for many chemicals of concern the fraction of contaminant mass that resides in the released form is orders of magnitude less than that which may be present in the bound form. For example, in Lake Michigan only 3 percent of the total polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) pool is dissolved in the water column, with the bulk bound in bottom sediments (Pearson et al., 1996). In contrast, Lake Superior,

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications which is situated in a less industrialized area than Lake Michigan and receives most of its PCB inputs via the atmosphere, has a much higher fraction (67 percent) of PCBs in the aqueous phase (Jeremiason et al., 1994). The rate and extent to which bound-phase contamination can be released (or transported directly) to an organism are often the controlling factors, such that understanding contaminant release is critical to the establishment of bioavailability-based cleanup levels and soil or sediment quality criteria. As discussed in Chapter 1, contaminant release can occur far from the receptor, directly on skin surfaces, or within the lumen of the gut. Following release from the bound state, a contaminant enters a dissolved aqueous state or a gas state (B in Figure 1-1), where it is subject to transport processes such as diffusion, dispersion, and advection. These processes combine to move contaminant molecules through the liquid or gas phases and may result in the reassociation of the contaminant with the soil or sediment (i.e., a return to the bound state), or they may carry the contaminant to the surface of a living organism. Transport of bound contaminants (C in Figure 1-1) via similar processes can also bring contaminants within close proximity of potential receptors. Because exposure of an organism to contaminants is strongly influenced by transport processes, contaminant transport is an important bioavailability component. However, in cases where the contaminant has been released directly on the skin or within the gut, transport processes (other than movement of the organism itself into the vicinity of the contaminated material) may be negligible. Once the contaminant comes into contact with an organism (either externally or internally in the gut lumen), it is possible for the contaminant to enter living cells and tissue (D in Figure 1-1). Because of the enormous diversity of organisms and their physiologies, the actual process of contaminant uptake into a FIGURE 1-1 Bioavailability processes in soil and sediment.

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications cell—or factors that may impede or facilitate uptake—varies depending on receptor type. One common factor among all organisms is the presence of a cellular membrane that separates the cytoplasm (cell interior) from the external environment. Most contaminants must pass through this membrane before deleterious effects on the cell or organism occur. (In some instances, it is possible for contaminants to exert a toxic effect without penetrating the cell membrane such as β-lactam antibiotics, which damage bacterial cell walls and cause cell lysis.) Uptake generally requires contaminant transfer to and through a released state. In the case of bacteria, physical features (e.g., the cell wall) can isolate their cellular membrane from contact with particulate material, such that contaminants must be dissolved in the aqueous phase before they can be taken up. However, there are exceptions to the notion that bioavailability is directly dependent on solubility. For example, contaminant-laden particles that undergo phagocytosis can be delivered directly into some cells (although within the cell the contaminant may eventually need to be solubilized to reach its site of biological action). How contaminants in the bound or released state interact with the surface of a living organism constitutes the final step that defines the concept of bioavailability. Once absorbed, contaminants may be metabolized, they may be excreted, or they may cause a toxic effect, among other things. Although these pathways are discussed in this chapter (and shown as E in Figure 1-1), they are not considered bioavailability processes. SOLIDS PRESENT IN NATURAL ENVIRONMENTS An important step that limits the bioavailability of contaminants is their retention onto solids that compose soils and sediments. A wide range of solids exists in natural systems that vary in their reactivity toward organic and inorganic contaminants. Before discussing retention processes themselves, it is useful to review the types of solids in soils and sediments and to define how the terms soils and sediments are used in this report. Box 3-1 provides comprehensive definitions of soil and sediment that acknowledge the richness of these materials as ecosystems. For the purposes of this report, however, simpler more operational definitions are adequate and used throughout the chapter. Soils are usually considered to be unconsolidated (organic and mineral) material on upland landscapes and thus well aerated. As a result, their organic matter content is generally less than 5 percent, and oxidized materials define their mineralogy. Sediments, in contrast, are generally referred to as material having an overlying stratum, either water or soil. Aquatic sediments are saturated with water, and their aeration status depends on the redox conditions of the water column; they often achieve very anoxic states due to limited diffusion of molecular oxygen through sediments. Subsurface sediments underlie soils, often contain very low organic carbon content, and may be aerated or anaerobic depending primarily upon the carbon content in the formation. For

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications BOX 3-1 Different Perspectives on Soil and Sediment Although the operational definitions of soil and sediment are adequate for the purposes of this report, soils and sediments are characterized by intricate associations of biological, chemical, and physical processes that impart functionality in these systems. Furthermore, scientists, engineers, and policy makers define these terms quite differently. Soil Soil is an elaborate ecosystem that encompasses secondary mineral matter derived from the weathering of geological material in association with detrital and living organic matter. A rich community of micro- and macroorganisms resides within and acts upon soils, an aspect not well captured by the operational definition of soil as simply unconsolidated matter at the earth’s surface. As a result, contaminants in soil may undergo complex reaction pathways involving microbial degradation, plant assimilation, or binding to multiple phases ranging from mineral to organic in structure. Soil is a term used frequently by many groups whose definitions of these media often differ greatly. Farmers and plant scientists may consider soils a medium for plant growth. Geologists may consider them as the “skin” on the geologic body. Structural engineers might envision soils as material for supporting roads and buildings, while environmental engineers consider soils as filtration media. From a soil science perspective, soils are defined as “dynamic natural bodies having properties derived from the combined effects of climate and biotic activities, as modified by topography, acting on parent material over periods of time” (Jenne, 1968). Thus, soils are not just inert material on the surface of the earth but rather a complex ecological system, with biological functionality and undergoing continual evolution. the purposes of this report, the term sediment when used alone refers to aquatic sediments unless otherwise noted. The contrasting physical environments for soils and sediments can lead to very different solids—and thus properties with regard to contaminant retention (i.e., both strength and magnitude of retention). Common Materials within Soils and Sediments Solids within both soils and sediments are a composite of inherited material termed primary minerals (which are minerals formed by geological processes) and solids developed in place (authogenic). Such solids also have a balance of inorganic and organic fractions. This section discusses both primary and authogenic minerals, focusing mainly on clay minerals and organic compounds which are often the most reactive phases and thus most important for influencing bioavailability.

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications Sediment Aquatic sediments are an open, dynamic, structured biogeochemical system typically composed of an oxic zone overlying anoxic materials (Fenchel, 1969; Chapman, 1989; Luoma, 1983, 1989). A variety of organisms ingest aquatic sediments or particulate detritus as food or live within the upper few centimeters of sediments, maintaining contact with the oxic zone to satisfy their oxygen requirements. The depth of the boundary between oxic and anoxic zones is affected by the diffusion rate of oxygen into the sediment compared to the consumption of oxygen by microbes in addition to complex interactions between deposition and erosion, geochemical reactions, and physical and chemical effects of the benthos (Aller, 1982; Myers and Nealson, 1988). Biologists consider sediment to be a medium within which benthos live. Engineers might be concerned about its physical properties with respect to supporting a building or describing the stability of a slope. Hydrologists might be interested in the water holding characteristics of aquatic sediment. These various definitions may assume dimensions that differ from the operational definition used in this report. Geologists define sediment as a solid material that is produced by the weathering, erosion, and redeposition of preexisting rocks (referred to previously as “subsurface sediment”) (Blatt et al., 1980). Sediments can be formed either by erosion and deposition by water (such as beaches), air (such as dunes), or ice (such as glacial moraine deposits) (Gary et al., 1974). The materials that form sediments can be derived from any preexisting rock type, including previously formed sediments, or accumulated by other “natural agents,” such as organic matter that settles after being formed in suspension by organisms. Sediments become generally more compacted and altered chemically (consolidated and lithified) when they are buried within the subsurface. Broadly, the present composition of a sediment depends upon the source materials, the transport processes that occur, the redeposition environment, and any post-depositional processes. Thus, the geologist’s description of sediments tends to focus on factors that identify the sediment formation process. Inorganic Materials Greater than 90 percent of the Earth’s crust is composed of silicate (silicon and oxygen framework) minerals (Hurlbut and Klein, 1977), and as a result these minerals constitute a large fraction of soils and sediments. More specifically, quartz and feldspars make up the greatest fraction of coarse materials (those having particle diameters greater than 0.05 mm) and can also be appreciable in finer (< 0.05 mm) materials of soils and sediments (Allen and Hajek, 1986; Huang, 1989). With the degradation of primary minerals, smaller particles (< 0.002 mm in diameter) develop. This smallest size fraction is typically dominated in volume by secondary (authogenic) minerals composing a mineralogical class known as the clay minerals (a chemical definition of layered aluminosilicate minerals). Although they do not generally constitute the greatest abundance, the high surface area reactivity of clay minerals (as well as organic or carbonaceous

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications Soil profile at Oak Ridge National Lab showing the intricate and complex nature of soils. components—see below) causes them to be one of the most important classes of materials controlling contaminant–solid interactions. Clay minerals are layered silicates in which sheets of silicon coordinated by oxygen anions are bound with sheets of aluminum and/or magnesium coordinated by hydroxyl anions. Individual layers then stack to form the clay mineral. Kaolinite, a material of alternating silicate and aluminum sheets, is probably the most ubiquitous clay mineral in the world. The physical and chemical properties of soils and sediments in temperate climates are usually dominated by smectite and vermiculite minerals, organic matter, or metal (e.g., iron, aluminum, and manganese) hydrous oxides. Smectite and vermiculite are aluminosilicate minerals containing a permanent negative charge that originates from cations of lesser charge substituting for Si4+ or Al3+ within the sheet structure (commonly Al3+ substitutes for Si4+ and Mg2+ for Al3+). The extra negative charge associated with

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications the defect structure is then satisfied by hydrated cations within soils and sediments, and the degree of negative charge is denoted as the cation exchange capacity (CEC). A multitude of additional phases may be present in soils or sediments at much lower concentrations, and such phases are termed accessory minerals, most of which are authogenic. Despite their low levels, many accessory phases exert a strong influence on the chemical-physical properties of natural environments owing to their high reactivity, their ability to form coatings on other minerals, and their high surface area. Hydrated oxides of iron and aluminum are the most prevalent accessory minerals within aerated environments (i.e., soils); manganese oxides, while less abundant, have a very high reactivity. Collectively, these phases are termed hydrated metal oxides, and they often control the dissolved concentrations of inorganic contaminants such as lead or arsenic through reaction with ionizable surface functional groups. Conditions within anaerobic sediments lead to the destabilization and dissolution of iron and manganese oxides. If sulfur is prevalent in such an environment, e.g., as for marine systems, this can lead to the precipitation of minerals such as pyrite or other iron sulfide phases (Morse et al., 1987). Elevated levels of carbon dioxide within waterlogged sediments can also lead to conditions favorable for the precipitation of carbonate minerals, particularly at alkaline pH values, that may include calcite, dolomite, and siderite. All of these solids have a defined reactivity toward contaminants that is addressed further below. Organic and Carbonaceous Materials Organic matter in surface soils and many sediments is principally from detrital material of plants and animals or their degradation products, as well as thermally altered and geologic forms of organic matter, such as kerogen, coal, soot, charcoal, and black carbons. Organic matter in solids tends to be highly reactive toward ionic and polar contaminants because ionizable functional groups within natural organic matter (e.g., carboxylate, phenolate, sulfhydral, amino, and phosphate groups) have a propensity to bind metal ions. In addition, aromatic moieties and hydrophobic micropores within organic matter promote the sorption of many hazardous organic compounds. Because plant and animal residues degrade rapidly in aerated environments of temperate and tropical regimes, soils typically contain less than 5 percent organic matter (Brady and Weil, 1999). Nevertheless, owing to the reactive nature of organic matter, even just a few percent of such material can impart dominant physical and chemical characteristics to soils (Buol et al., 1997). Sediments, on the other hand, are often characterized by anaerobic conditions, and thus tend to accumulate carbon over time. Indeed, wetlands, including estuarine environments, can accumulate an organic fraction well in excess of 20 percent and have their physical-chemical characteristics completely dominated by this material.

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications Degradation products of plant and animal matter are often broadly categorized based on operational definitions of their solubility. Nondetrital organic matter that is insoluble in acid or base is termed humin, while that which dissolves in base is classified as humus. Humus can further be broken into fractions that are insoluble in acid (humic acids) and those that are soluble in acid (fulvic acids). Although these definitions are based on extraction procedures, the properties of organic matter are well represented by this methodology. For example, fulvic acids are small molecular weight organic molecules (generally less than 2000 daltons) and have a high proportion of functional groups that make them extremely reactive. Humic acids are larger molecular weight compounds with less functionality than fulvic acids. Despite differences in the degree of reactivity, all natural soil and sediment organic matter has appreciable effects on contaminant retention and therefore bioavailability. Black carbon—particularly noteworthy because of its high reactivity towards nonpolar organic pollutants and its ubiquitous occurrence in sediments (Schmidt and Noack, 2000)—is a product of combustion/pyrolysis of either vegetation or fossil fuel. Post-1900 sediments and soils contain oil- and coal-derived black carbon as well as residues derived from plant combustion prior to 1900. Black carbon is condensed and highly aromatic in structure and composition. Because it is extremely resistant to weathering processes, it persists in the environment. Along with black carbon, other forms of thermally altered carbonaceous material (coals, kerogens) appear to dominate hydrophobic organic compound sorption and desorption in some systems and potentially dominate bioavailability, even when they make up a small proportion of total carbon. These types of carbonaceous materials arise from geologic processes such as sediment burial and associated elevated temperature that (1) make the material more condensed and aromatic, (2) reduce its oxygen and hydrogen contents, and (3) increase its carbon content (Tissot and Welte, 1978). Under conditions of regional metamorphism, graphite can be formed. Coals, which by definition contain greater than 50 percent organic matter (Hutton, 1995) from primarily terrestrial plant material, are created through “coalification” (peat, lignite, bituminous coal, anthracite) that also results in more condensed and structured organic matter. Below the depth of soil formation, there is evidence that these older and more resistant forms of carbonaceous material can form the bulk of the observable carbon in at least some circumstances (Keller and Bacon, 1998). As explained in Box 3-2, the different types of organic matter discussed above bind contaminants to varying degrees, which may influence bioavailability. Table 3-1 provides the chemical composition and characteristics of some representative forms of carbonaceous material that occur in soils and sediments. To briefly summarize, humic substances (humic and fulvic acids and humin) generally contain more oxygenated functional groups and less aromatic character and turn over more readily than more condensed, thermally altered forms of

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications BOX 3-2 Differing Sorptive Capacities of Organic Materials Different types of solid organic carbon retain hydrophobic organic contaminants (HOCs) to different degrees. In particular, coal-derived and coaly, particulate sorbent media are significantly more efficient in sequestering HOCs compared to natural sediment organic matter (Karapanagioti et al., 2000). Gustafsson et al. (1997) reported for Boston Harbor sediments that polyaromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) sorption coefficients for carbonaceous residues from pyrogenic sources like soot may be two to three orders of magnitude greater than that for biogenic organic matter. Similarly, Grathwohl (1990) has shown that partition coefficients for HOCs on coals and shales may be approximately two orders of magnitude higher than that for HOCs on soil organic matter, such as humic acids. Reported values of sorption coefficients for different sorbent carbons are illustrated in Figure 3-1 for trichloroethylene (TCE). The H/O ratio of the carbonaceous material indicates its polarity and provides a general indication of the structural characteristics of the material. The figure indicates that more condensed organic phases, such as coals and kerogenic shales, result in higher equilibrium TCE sorption. Similar behavior has been observed for phenanthrene (Gustafsson et al., 1997; Huang et al., 1997). It is evident that soot, coals, and shale-derived carbonaceous materials found in soils and sediment have nearly two orders of magnitude higher sorption capacities compared to humic substances and plant materials that are commonly predominant in modern surficial soils. Thus, from purely equilibrium considerations, the presence of even low proportions of diagenetically or thermally altered carbon solids in sediments should result in a substantial reduction in aqueous equilibrium or pore-water concentrations of the sorbed contaminants. To the extent that exposure and bioavailability are proportional to the aqueous concentration of HOCs, the presence of soot, coal, and charcoal may reduce toxicity and accumulation in comparison to humic or fulvic acids. FIGURE 3-1 Reported partition coefficient values for trichloroethylene (TCE) on different types of carbon materials that can occur in soil and sediment. SOURCE: Reprinted, with permission, from Grathwohl (1990). © (1990) American Chemical Society.

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications TABLE 3-1 Representative Characteristics of Organic and Carbonaceous Materials Material Approximate Age (yr)a MW (Da)b C%b H/Cc O/Hc Soil fulvic acid 102–103 ~103 46 2.20 1.19 Soil humic acid 102–103 104–105 56 1.95 0.84 Humin 103 104–106       Kerogen (in shales) 104–106 104–106 66 1.3 0.1 Coal 104–106 105–106 80     bituminous       0.78 0.06 anthracite       0.32 0.02 Soot, chard 10–106   48–97e     aFrom Weber et al. (2001) for all materials except soot/char. bAs cited in Weber et al. (2001) except for soot and char (Allen-King et al., 2002). cAs cited in Grathwohl (1990) for example materials. dSoot and char contain a high proportion of C and a highly aromatic structure (Schmidt and Noack, 2000; Allen-King et al., 2002). eBlack carbon is predominantly elemental C and has an extended, aromatic network structure. NOTE: Values shown are for particular well-characterized example materials typical of the characteristic compound described. carbonaceous material such as soot, shale-derived kerogen, or hard coal. Although humic substances are usually the dominant form of carbonaceous material in soils and modern sediments, they have much lower sorption capacity for hydrophobic organic contaminants than the more condensed carbon forms. The methods used to identify and, when appropriate, quantify the forms of carbonaceous matter in soil and sediment are described in Chapter 4. The prevalence and reactivity of solids—both organic and inorganic—found in soils and sediments are summarized in Table 3-2. The surface reactivity of the solids is broadly grouped into three categories: chemical, electrostatic, and hydrophobic reactivity. Surfaces having reactive functional groups (coordinatively unsaturated sites on mineral surfaces) are deemed chemically reactive. Electrostatic reactivity results from the development of charge, whether it be from isomorphic substitution in phyllosilicate minerals or from ionizable surface functional groups. Organic material having non-polar sites provides the possibility of hydrophobic bounds and thus is classified as having “hydrophobic reactivity.” The probability of the material reacting with inorganic or organic contaminants is broadly classified, such that there are exceptions to the generalizations. Finally, those solid fractions with higher specific surface area (e.g., clays) tend to have higher reactivity.

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Bioavailability of Contaminants in Soils and Sediments: Processes, Tools, and Applications TABLE 3-2 Prevalence and Dominant Reactivity of Solids Common to Soils and Sediments Material Type of Reactivitya Occurrence Reactivity with Inorg. Contamin. Reactivity with Org. Contamin. Fulvic acid Chemical, Electrostatic, Hydrophobic Soils, Aquatic sediments High Moderate Humic acid Chemical, Electrostatic, Hydrophobic Soils, Aquatic sediments High Moderate Humin Hydrophobic Soils, Aquatic sediments Moderate Moderate Kerogen Hydrophobic Soils, Aquatic sediments, Subsurface sediment Low High Coal Hydrophobic Soils, Aquatic sediments, Subsurface sediment Low High Soot Hydrophobic Soils, Aquatic sediments, Subsurface sediment Low High Clay minerals Electrostatic, Chemical Ubiquitous High Low Metal oxides Chemical, Electrostatic Soils, Subsurface sediment High Low Metal carbonates Chemical, Electrostatic Alkaline environments Low to moderate Low Metal sulfides Chemical, Electrostatic Aquatic sediments High Low aChemical reactivity denotes material having functional groups that tend to form bonds with contaminants through the sharing of electrons (covalent/ionic bonds). Electrostatic reactivity relates to the creation of a charged surface. Hydrophobic reactivity results from the presence of non-polar surface groups.

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