Development of a Passive Multisampling Method to Measure Dioxins/Furans and Other Contaminant Bioavailability in Aquatic Sediments

Dr. Rainer Lohmann | University of Rhode Island



In situ sediment sampling offers major benefits over laboratory equilibrations of retrieved sediment samples in terms of accuracy of porewater concentrations. Yet it is also made more challenging by more complicated deployments (both deployment and retrieval are needed), potential losses (vandalism, losses due to weather, inadvertent ship strikes, fishing) and lack of equilibration in the field. Longer deployment times increase the mass of HOCs accumulated by the passive in situ sampler, but also increase the possibility of sampler loss.

The objectives of this study are to further develop and field-test an in situ passive multi-sampler to quantify polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (dioxins/furans), and other HOCs, such as PCBs and organochlorine pesticides (OCPs). The sampler will be tested to work, without the need for divers, both in shallow and deep sediments at several sites along the Passaic River (NJ) and Newark Bay (NJ/NY).

Back to Top

Technical Approach

This study is being conducted in two phases. Phase I is complete and the utility of polyethylene (PE)-based passive multisamplers for determining dissolved concentrations of PCDD/Fs, PCBs and other HOCs at shallow sediment sites was demonstrated ( Phase I Final Report). Porewater measurements agreed well between in situ and ex situ measurement approaches. The exact choice of performance reference compounds (PRCs) was important, with 13C-PCDDs improving predictions of porewater PCDD/F concentrations, as opposed to relying on deuterated PAHs and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) as PRCs. The use of porewater passive samplers was used to predict the bioaccumulation of HOCs in benthic invertebrates. Different benthic invertebrates displayed vastly differing body burdens of targeted HOCs. The site fidelity of porewater measurements was difficult to assess due to lack of consistent matrices to compare to. The Phase I effort raised several important questions and objectives for follow-on work, which is targeted in Phase II.

The remaining challenge is to make the sampler amenable for deployments without the use of divers. To achieve this objective, the original sampler design will be modified and its performance assessed by comparison with the old design and porewater incubations in the laboratory. The new PE sampler will combine working as an equilibrium passive sampler for some smaller molecular weight HOCs, but will rely on PRCs for most dioxins/furans, PCBs and OCPs. In addition, 13C-labeled PRCs will be further tested to obtain accurate results for PCBs and OCP. The passive sampling devices will continue to be tested in the Passaic River/ Newark Bay area, which has a known contamination history with several HOCs, including dioxins/furans. Once the multisampler is demonstrated to be capable of covering shallow and deep water sediment sites without relying on divers for deployments or retrievals; the new sampler will be tested as a surrogate for the prediction of tissue PCDD/F, PCB, TEQ and OCP concentrations in benthic invertebrates and vertebrates across several sites. In addition, the capability of the passive multisampler to yield representative spatial interrogation of site HOCs will be assessed by contrasting various sediment sites and site biota.

Back to Top


The DoD has to assess and manage numerous sites with contaminated sediments. To be able to accurately characterize on-going exposure, as well as the effectiveness of remediation approaches, cost-effective and useful monitoring tools are needed. The modified multi-sampler will be able to support DoD efforts to remediate sediments by being able to (1) monitor numerous HOCs simultaneously, including dioxins/furans; (2) be deployable without the need for divers, which will be cost-effective; (3) have a representative monitoring method that is chemically well-characterized (as opposed to using biological endpoints): (4) use the porewater concentrations derived by the passive multi-sampler to predict tissue concentrations of benthic biota; and (5) yield representative spatial and temporal interrogation of site contaminants when deployed. (Anticipated Completion Date - 2020)

Back to Top


Jonker, M.T.O., S.A. van der Heijden, D. Adelman, J.N. Apell, R.M. Burgess, Y. Choi, L.A. Fernandez, G.M. Flavetta, U. Ghosh, P.M. Gschwend, S.E. Hale, M. Jalalizadeh, M. Khairy, M.A. Lampi, W. Lao, R. Lohmann, M.J. Lydy, K.A. Maruya, S.A. Nutile, A.M.P. Oen, M.I. Rakowska, D. Reible, T.P. Rusina, F. Smedes, and Y. Wu. 2018. Advancing the Use of Passive Sampling in Risk Assessment and Management of Contaminated Sediments:  Results of an International Passive Sampling Inter-Laboratory Comparison. Environmental Science & Technology, 52(6):3574-3582. 10.1021/acs.est.7b05752

Khairy, M., K. Barrett, and R. Lohmann. 2016. The Changing Sources of Polychlorinated Dibenzo-p-dioxins and Furans in Sediments from the Lower Passaic River and Newark Bay, New Jersey, USA. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 35(3):550-562.

Khairy, M. and R. Lohmann. 2017. Partitioning, Fluxes and Bioaccumulation of PBDEs in an Urban River. Environmental Science & Technology, 51(16):9062-9071.

Khairy, M., G.O. Noonan, and R. Lohmann. 2019. Contrasting Uptake and Bioaccumulation of legacy and emerging contaminants in the Aquatic Food Web of the Lower Passaic River: OCPs, PBDEs and PFAAs. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 38(4):872-882.

Zhang, X., R. Lohmann, C. Dassuncao, X. Hu, A. Weber, C. Vecitis, and E. Sunderland. 2016. Source Attribution of Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs) in Surface Waters from Rhode Island and the New York Metropolitan Area. Environmental Science & Technology Letters, 3(9):316-321.

Back to Top

Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Rainer Lohmann

University of Rhode Island

Phone: 401-874-6612

Fax: 401-874-6811

Program Manager

Environmental Restoration