Production of Acetaldehyde from Ethanol in Coastal Waters

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Interest in understanding the cycling of ethanol in the environment has grown as ethanol use as a gasoline additive has increased. The production of acetaldehyde from ethanol was measured in Southern California coastal seawater. The rate of increase of acetaldehyde was positively correlated with the rate constant for ethanol biodegradation and bacteria count and was consistent with two consecutive first-order reactions where acetaldehyde is first biologically produced from ethanol then consumed. Correlation with bacteria counts suggested that acetaldehyde degradation was also a biological process. The rate constants for acetaldehyde production from ethanol and acetaldehyde loss averaged 3.0 ± 3.4 × 10−3 min−1 and 2.3 ± 4.5 × 10−2 min−1 respectively. The branching ratio for acetaldehyde production from ethanol was 0.46 ± 0.26 and estimated acetaldehyde biological production rates ranged from 0.022 to 0.800 nM min−1. With high bacterial counts, biological production rates from ethanol exceeded photochemical production rates from chromophoric dissolved organic matter. Overall, acetaldehyde production rates were larger than biodegradation rates, suggesting these waters are a source of acetaldehyde to the atmosphere. Extrapolation to higher ethanol concentrations associated with spills suggests that the production rate of acetaldehyde will initially increase and then decrease as ethanol concentrations increase.


This article was originally published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research, volume 27, in 2020.

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