Assessment of relative accuracy in the determination of organic matter concentrations in aquatic systems

350 210 Stroud Water Research Center

Aiken, G., L.A. Kaplan, and J. Weishaar. 2002. Journal of Environmental Monitoring 4:70–74.

doi: 10.1039/B107322M


Accurate determinations of total (TOC), dissolved (DOC) and particulate (POC) organic carbon concentrations are critical for understanding the geochemical, environmental, and ecological roles of aquatic organic matter. Of particular significance for the drinking water industry, TOC measurements are the basis for compliance with US EPA regulations. The results of an interlaboratory comparison designed to identify problems associated with the determination of organic matter concentrations in drinking water supplies are presented. The study involved 31 laboratories and a variety of commercially available analytical instruments. All participating laboratories performed well on samples of potassium hydrogen phthalate (KHP), a compound commonly used as a standard in carbon analysis. However, problems associated with the oxidation of difficult to oxidize compounds, such as dodecylbenzene sulfonic acid and caffeine, were noted. Humic substances posed fewer problems for analysts. Particulate organic matter (POM) in the form of polystyrene beads, freeze-dried bacteria and pulverized leaf material were the most difficult for all analysts, with a wide range of performances reported. The POM results indicate that the methods surveyed in this study are inappropriate for the accurate determination of POC and TOC concentration. Finally, several analysts had difficulty in efficiently separating inorganic carbon from KHP solutions, thereby biasing DOC results.


NSF Award No. DEB-0096276. Title: LTREB: Stream ecosystem structure and function within a maturing deciduous forest. Duration: August 1998–July 2003.