"Phytoscreening": The use of trees for discovering subsurface contamination by VOCs

A. Sorek, N. Atzmon, O. Dahan, Z. Gerstl, L. Kushisin, Y. Laor, U. Mingelgrin, A. Nasser, D. Ronen, L. Tsechansky, N. Weisbrod, E. R. Graber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


We tested the possibility of using tree cores to detect unknown subsurface contamination by chlorinated volatile organic compounds (Cl-VOCs) and petroleum hydrocarbons, a method we term "phytoscreening". The scope and limitations of the method include the following: (i) a number of widespread Cl-VOC contaminants are readily found in tree cores, although those with very high vapor pressures or low boiling points may be absent; (ii) volatile petroleum hydrocarbons were not well-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 Cl-VOCs in tree cores from 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536-542
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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