General formulation of characteristic time for persistent chemicals in a multimedia environment

Deborah H Bennett, William E. Kastenberg, Thomas E. Mckone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


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 n 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)503-509
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Environmental Engineering


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