“Phytoscreening”: the use of trees for discovering subsurface contamination by VOCs Academic Article uri icon


  • We tested the possibility of using tree cores to detect unknown subsurface contamination by chlorinated volatile organic compounds (CI-VOCs) and petroleum hydrocarbons, a method we term "phytoscreening". The scope and limitations of the method include the following: (i) a number of widespread CI-VOC contaminants are readily found in tree cores, although those with very high vapor pressures or low boiling points maybe absent; (ii) volatile petroleum hydrocarbons were notwell-expressed in tree cores; (iii) trees should be sampled during active evapotranspiration and from directions that are well exposed to sunlight; (iv) there is not necessarily a direct correlation between concentrations measured in tree cores and those in the subsurface; (v) detection of a contaminant in a tree core indicates that the subsurface is contaminated with the pollutant; (vi) many possible causes of false negatives may be predicted and avoided. We sampled trees at 13 random locations in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and identified CI-VOCs in tree coresfrom three locations. Subsequently, subsurface contamination at all three sites was confirmed. Phytoscreening is a simple, fast, noninvasive, and inexpensive screening method for detecting subsurface contamination, and is particularly useful in urban settings where conventional methods are difficult and expensive to employ.

publication date

  • January 1, 2008