Passive sampling methods for contaminated sediments: State of the science for organic contaminants


  • EDITOR'S NOTE: This paper represents 1 of 6 papers in the special series “Passive Sampling Methods for Contaminated Sediments,” which was generated from the SETAC Technical Workshop “Guidance on Passive Sampling Methods to Improve Management of Contaminated Sediments,” held November 2012 in Costa Mesa, California, USA. Recent advances in passive sampling methods (PSMs) offer an improvement in risk-based decision making, since bioavailability of sediment contaminants can be directly quantified. Forty-five experts, representing PSM developers, users, and decision makers from academia, government, and industry, convened to review the state of science to gain consensus on PSM applications in assessing and supporting management actions on contaminated sediments.
  • This article was published online on 8 November 2013. An error was subsequently identified in an author's affiliations link. This notice is included in the online and has been corrected 9 April 2014.


This manuscript surveys the literature on passive sampler methods (PSMs) used in contaminated sediments to assess the chemical activity of organic contaminants. The chemical activity in turn dictates the reactivity and bioavailability of contaminants in sediment. Approaches to measure specific binding of compounds to sediment components, for example, amorphous carbon or specific types of reduced carbon, and the associated partition coefficients are difficult to determine, particularly for native sediment. Thus, the development of PSMs that represent the chemical activity of complex compound–sediment interactions, expressed as the freely dissolved contaminant concentration in porewater (Cfree), offer a better proxy for endpoints of concern, such as reactivity, bioaccumulation, and toxicity. Passive sampling methods have estimated Cfree using both kinetic and equilibrium operating modes and used various polymers as the sorbing phase, for example, polydimethylsiloxane, polyethylene, and polyoxymethylene in various configurations, such as sheets, coated fibers, or vials containing thin films. These PSMs have been applied in laboratory exposures and field deployments covering a variety of spatial and temporal scales. A wide range of calibration conditions exist in the literature to estimate Cfree, but consensus values have not been established. The most critical criteria are the partition coefficient between water and the polymer phase and the equilibrium status of the sampler. In addition, the PSM must not appreciably deplete Cfree in the porewater. Some of the future challenges include establishing a standard approach for PSM measurements, correcting for nonequilibrium conditions, establishing guidance for selection and implementation of PSMs, and translating and applying data collected by PSMs. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2014;10:167–178. © 2014 The Authors. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of SETAC.