Partitioning of hydrophobic organic compounds within soil-water-surfactant systems

Peng Wang, Arturo A. Keller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Understanding the partitioning of hydrophobic organic compounds (HOCs) within soil-water-surfactant systems is key to improving the use of surfactants for remediation. The overall objective of this study was to investigate the soil properties that influence the effectiveness of surfactants used to remediate soil contaminated with hydrophobic pesticides, as an example of a more general application for removing strongly sorbing HOCs from contaminated soils via in-situ enhanced sorption, or ex-situ soil washing. In this study, the partitioning of two commonly used pesticides, atrazine and diuron, within soil-water-surfactant systems was investigated. Five natural soils, one nonionic surfactant (Triton-100 (TX)) and one cationic surfactant (benzalkonium chloride (BC)) were used. The results showed that the cation exchange capacity (CEC) is the soil property that controls surfactant sorption onto the soils. Diuron showed much higher solubility enhancement than atrazine with the micelles of either surfactant. Within an ex-situ soil washing system, TX is more effective for soils with lower CEC than those with higher CEC. Within an in-situ enhanced sorption zone, BC works significantly better with more hydrophobic HOCs. The HOC sorption capacity of the sorbed surfactant (Kss) was a non-linear function of the amount of surfactant sorbed. For the cationic surfactant (BC), the maximal Kss occurred when around 40% of the total CEC sites in the various soils were occupied by sorbed surfactant. Below a sub-saturation sorption range (∼20 g/kg), under the same amount of BC sorbed, a soil with lower CEC tends to have higher Kss than the one with higher CEC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2093-2101
Number of pages9
JournalWater research
Issue number8-9
StatePublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • CEC
  • HOC
  • Pesticide
  • Sorption
  • Surfactant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering


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