Biofouling confounds the uptake of trace organic contaminants by semi-permeable membrane devices (SPMDs)

Bruce J. Richardson*, Paul K S Lam, Gene J. Zheng, Katherine E. McClellan, Sharon B. De Luca-Abbott

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


The outer layers of layflat, low density polyethylene plastic tubing (the principal component of semi-permeable membrane devices, SPMDs) were biofouled at a clean site in Hong Kong coastal waters for periods of 1-4 weeks. Following pre-fouling, triolein was added to the SPMDs and, along with control (unfouled) devices, they were exposed to a range of organochlorine pesticides (α-HCH, aldrin, p,p′-DDT) and PAHs (anthracene, fluoranthene and benzo(a)pyrene) under laboratory conditions. Results showed that the uptake of contaminants by SPMDs was severely reduced by as much as 50% under fouling conditions in comparison to unfouled controls. The ultimate utility of SPMDs as passive monitors is thus reduced, although alternative measures, such as the use of permeability reference compounds may compensate, and allow for realistic evaluations of dissolved environmental concentrations in aquatic environments. However, due to the complexities involved in such procedures - especially as they need to be conducted on a case-by-case basis - the utility of SPMDs appears to be limited for estimates of bioavailability unless necessary calibrations are undertaken within each environment that the sampler is used.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1372-1379
Number of pages8
JournalMarine Pollution Bulletin
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Biofilm
  • Biofouling
  • Organochlorine pesticides
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Semi-permeable membrane devices (SPMDs)

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