Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is a mixture of thousands of organic molecules wide-ranging in molecular weight, polarity and physicochemical properties. DOM is responsible for multiple water treatment issues such as trihalomethane (THM) formation potential and membrane fouling. Two methods of evaluating the polarity of DOM are being used for water treatment application: a serial XAD resin adsorption method at acid pH and the polarity rapid assessment method (PRAM) by parallel solid phase extraction (SPE) cartridges at natural pH. These two methods have been described by their authors as able to define a hydrophobic fraction though they do so by sorption onto different types of material at different pHs. The first part of this study compared the PRAM and XAD methods and showed that the hydrophobic fractions defined by the two approaches were not correlated. This result highlighted the difficulties in defining fractions as ‘hydrophobic material’. It appeared that the sorbents for XAD-8 (an acrylic polymer containing oxygen) at pH <3 and C-18 (a pure hydrocarbon polymer coating on silica particles) at neutral or pH <3 did not retain similar hydrophobic fractions. This hypothesis was verified by fluorescence spectroscopy of the effluent of the XAD-8 resin and PRAM C-18 SPE cartridge. Finally the study concentrated on the use of fluorescence and ultrafiltration methods in series with PRAM to gain more insight into the structure and characteristics of the hydrophobic DOM present in drinking water sources. This evaluation showed that the smaller molecular weight fraction of DOM (<1 kDa) had a higher percentage of hydrophobic character and that the fluorescence-defined aromatic protein fraction was the most hydrophilic.

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