Soil particle-size dependent partitioning behavior of pesticides within water-soil-cationic surfactant systems

Peng Wang, Arturo A. Keller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Cationic surfactants have been proposed for enhanced sorption zones to contain hydrophobic organic compound (HOC) contamination. Benzalkonium chloride (BC), a cationic surfactant, was selected to study the particle-size dependent sorption behavior of the surfactant and its role in the immobilization of two hydrophobic pesticides (atrazine and diuron) within soil-water-surfactant systems for this application. Five different soils were considered in this study. Our results showed significant particle-size dependent behavior for surfactant sorption and pesticide immobilization in the presence of the sorbed cationic surfactant. The cation exchange capacity (CEC) of the bulk soils and their size fractions (clay, silt, and sand fractions) determined BC sorption capacity. In the absence of BC the sand fractions were the least effective sorbent for the pesticides compared with silts and clays. However, at relatively low BC mass sorbed (<10,000 mg/kg) to any of the soil fractions, well below sorption saturation, the sand fractions became more effective sorbents for either pesticide than the clay and silt fractions. The pesticide partitioning coefficient onto sorbed BC (Kss) was not constant. Particle CEC, availability of CEC sites for sorption of the cationic surfactant, and the amount of the BC sorbed determined the phase of Kss. The maximum Kss occurred before BC saturation sorption capacity was reached and at different % CEC occupancy for the different size fractions. For the clay fractions, the maximum Kss occurred at lower % CEC occupancy (∼30-40%) than for the silt and sand fractions. The maximal Kss for the sand fractions occurred at the highest % CEC occupancy among all fractions (∼50-60%). These findings suggest that for an in situ surfactant-enhanced sorption zone it may be better to operate well below the saturation sorption of the cationic surfactant. This would enhance sorption of the HOCs onto the immobile fractions (silt and sand fractions) rather than the potentially mobile clay fractions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3781-3788
Number of pages8
JournalWater Research
Issue number14
StatePublished - Aug 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Cationic surfactant
  • Enhanced sorption zone
  • Hydrophobic organic compounds
  • Partitioning
  • Pesticide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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