Soil Science Society of America

Absorbing organic pollutants in soils


Source: Soil Science Society of America

A new study closely examines the role degrading plant materials play in absorbing organic pollutants in the soil. These “biopolymers” are the waxy, water resistant barriers between the plant cells and the environment. This information is important to evaluate the role of these biopolymers as a natural sorbent for organic pollutants in the environment.

The study, reported in the July/August 2010 edition of the Soil Science Society of America Journal, found that the 30-35% of the polymers decomposed after twenty months of incubation. There are two types of polymer; cutin, providing structural framework, as well as cutan, which increases the plant’s resistance to water. Cutin’s role as a natural absorbent decreases as it decomposes. Cutan, in contrast, continued to act as a natural highly efficient sorbents for organic compounds in soil. The journal is published by the Soil Science Society of America.

Previous studies of plants suggest that because of cutan’s highly crystalline structure, it was resistant to degradation. The findings of this study suggest that cutan is actually a mix of rigid and amorphous structure, rather than pure crystalline carbon.

A plant’s cutin was generally found to degrade into humus, or organic material, suggesting it is a critical component to natural leaf litter. The researchers concluded that of the two, cutan is more likely to perform as an absorbent in the soil.

The research was conducted by soil and environmental chemists from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Massachusetts. A marked difference from previous studies, the researchers performed their research on purified polymers, absent of the whole leaf and other residues. Thus, rates of decomposition were lower than previously reported.

“Sorption interactions have significant effects on the fate and behavior of organic compounds in the environment,” said Benny Chefetz, Hebrew University, who conducted the study. “In order to be able to predict the sorption-desorption behavior of compounds in soils, the level and composition of the natural [plant cutin/cutan] components of soil organic matter must be evaluated. These soil organic matter structures cannot be ignored as natural sorbents in soils and sediments”.
The project was funded by The United States–Israeli Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund, and presented at the 15th Meeting of the International Humic Substances Society in June 2010.

The full article is available for no charge for 30 days following the date of this summary. View the abstract at

Soil Science Society of America Journal,, is a peer-reviewed international journal published six times a year by the Soil Science Society of America. Its contents focus on research relating to physics; chemistry; biology and biochemistry; fertility and plant nutrition; genesis, morphology, and classification; water management and conservation; forest, range, and wildland soils; nutrient management and soil and plant analysis; mineralogy; and wetland soils.

The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, and founded in 1936, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

SSSA supports its members by providing quality research-based publications, educational programs, certifications, and science policy initiatives via a Washington, DC, office. For more information, visit

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