U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, (2004) 23(6), pp. 1416–1424


Low-density polyethylene membranes, typically filled with triolein, have been previously deployed as passive environmental samplers designed to accumulate nonpolar hydrophobic chemicals from water, sediments, and air. Hydrocarbons in such samplers, known as semipermeable membrane devices (SPMDs), diffuse through pores in the membranes and are trapped in the central hydrocarbon matrix, mimicking uptake by living organisms. Here, we describe laboratory and field verification that lowdensity polyethylene membrane devices (PEMDs) without triolein provide reliable, relatively inexpensive, time-integrated hydrocarbon sampling from water. For comparison, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) uptake in SPMDs and pink salmon eggs also was studied. Total concentrations of PAH accumulated by PEMDs were highly correlated with concentrations in water (r2 ≥ 0.99) and linear over the range tested (0–17 µg/L). Higher-molecular-mass PAH preferentially accumulated in PEMDs and in pink salmon eggs, but the source of oil in PEMDs remained identifiable. Accumulations of PAH were highly similar to those in SPMDs. The PEMDs retained approximately 78% of accumulated total PAH for 40 d in clean water. Thus, a simple plastic membrane can be conveniently used for environmental monitoring, particularly during situations in which contaminant concentrations are low (in the parts-per-billion range), variable, and intermittent.