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General Formulation of Characteristic Time for Persistent Chemicals in a Multimedia Environment

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Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720, Environmental Energy Technologies Division, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720-1730, and School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720
Cite this: Environ. Sci. Technol. 1999, 33, 3, 503–509
Publication Date (Web):December 16, 1998
Copyright © 1999 American Chemical Society

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    A simple yet representative method for determining the characteristic time a persistent organic pollutant remains in a multimedia environment is presented. The characteristic time is an important attribute for assessing long-term health and ecological impacts of a chemical. Calculating the characteristic time requires information on decay rates in multiple environmental media as well as the proportion of mass in each environmental medium. We explore the premise that using a steady-state distribution of the mass in the environment provides a means to calculate a representative estimate of the characteristic time while maintaining a simple formulation. Calculating the steady-state mass distribution incorporates the effect of advective transport and nonequilibrium effects resulting from the source terms. Using several chemicals, we calculate and compare the characteristic time in a representative multimedia environment for dynamic, steady-state, and equilibrium multimedia models, and also for a single medium model. We demonstrate that formulating the characteristic time based on the steady-state mass distribution in the environment closely approximates the dynamic characteristic time for a range of chemicals and thus can be used in decisions regarding chemical use in the environment.

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     Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California at Berkeley.

     Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.


     Corresponding author phone:  (510)643−0574; fax:  (510)643-9685; e-mail:  [email protected].


     Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California at Berkeley.

     School of Public Health, University of California.

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    Equations for the solution of the transient two-component model, steady-state unit world, and two box transient system (5 pages). Ordering information is given on any current masthead page.

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