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Opportunity at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Optimizing the Use of Passive Samplers to Monitor Contaminants at Polluted Aquatic Sites


Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Atlantic Ecology Division

RO# Location
22.02.01.B7671 Narragansett, RI 02882


Name E-mail Phone
Burgess, Robert M. burgess.robert@epa.gov 401.782.3106


In the last decade, several passive sampling techniques for selectively measuring dissolved hydrophobic organic contaminants (HOCs) have been developed. These techniques include semipermeable membrane devices (SPMD), solid phase microextraction (SPME), polyethylene devices (PEDs), and polyoxymethylene (POM). All of these methods use essentially the same approach for measuring dissolved concentrations (i.e., bioavailable concentrations). That is, contaminants partition between environmental matrices (e.g., overlying waters, sediments) and some form of absorptive organic polymer and/or liquid (e.g., triolein). Subsequently, the accumulated contaminants can be measured and related to the corresponding dissolved contaminant concentrations in the environmental matrices. These results can be compared to bioaccumulation by biomonitoring organisms (e.g., polychaetes, blue mussels) as well as to water quality standards to determine if contaminant exceedances are occurring. To recommend their use at contaminated sites, including Superfund sites, more research is required to assess the advantages and disadvantages of passive sampler methods.

Research opportunities involve evaluating the effectiveness of passive samplers for (1) accumulating hydrophobic organic contaminants (HOCs);(2) estimating dissolved phase concentrations of HOCs; (3) characterizing the flux of HOCs between environmental matrices (e.g., overlying water, sediment); (4) predicting bioaccumulation of HOCs by aquatic organisms; (5) evaluating equilibrium conditions between samplers, contaminants, and environmental media (e.g., sediment); and (6) assessing the effectiveness of remediation at contaminated sites.



Fernandez LA, et al: Environmental Science and Technology 43: 1430, 2009

Gschwend PM, et al: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 30: 1288, 2011


Passive samplers; PRCs; Environmental effects; PCBs; PAHs; Aquatic ecosystems; Equilibrium partitioning; Polymers; Bioaccumulation;


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Level:  Open to Regular and Senior applicants
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