The Search for Reliable Aqueous Solubility (Sw) and Octanol-Water Partition Coefficient (Kow) Data for Hydrophobic Organic Compounds: DDT and DDE as a Case Study

Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4201

By James Pontolillo and Robert P. Eganhouse


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The accurate determination of an organic contaminant’s physico-chemical properties is essential for predicting its environmental impact and fate. Approximately 700 publications (1944–2001) were reviewed and all known aqueous solubilities (Sw) and octanol-water partition coefficients (Kow) for the organochlorine pesticide, DDT, and its persistent metabolite, DDE were compiled and examined. Two problems are evident with the available database: 1) egregious errors in reporting data and references, and 2) poor data quality and/or inadequate documentation of procedures. The published literature (particularly the collative literature such as compilation articles and handbooks) is characterized by a preponderance of unnecessary data duplication. Numerous data and citation errors are also present in the literature. The percentage of original Sw and Kow data in compilations has decreased with time, and in the most recent publications (1994–97) it composes only 6–26 percent of the reported data. The variability of original DDT/DDE Sw and Kow data spans 2–4 orders of magnitude, and there is little indication that the uncertainty in these properties has declined over the last 5 decades. A criteria-based evaluation of DDT/DDE Sw and Kow data sources shows that 95–100 percent of the database literature is of poor or unevaluatable quality. The accuracy and reliability of the vast majority of the data are unknown due to inadequate documentation of the methods of determination used by the authors. [For example, estimates of precision have been reported for only 20 percent of experimental Sw data and 10 percent of experimental Kow data.] Computational methods for estimating these parameters have been increasingly substituted for direct or indirect experimental determination despite the fact that the data used for model development and validation may be of unknown reliability. Because of the prevalence of errors, the lack of methodological documentation, and unsatisfactory data quality, the reliability of the DDT/ DDE Sw and Kow database is questionable. The nature and extent of the errors documented in this study are probably indicative of a more general problem in the literature of hydrophobic organic compounds. Under these circumstances, estimation of critical environmental parameters on the basis of Sw and Kow (for example, bioconcentration factors, equilibrium partition coefficients) is inadvisable because it will likely lead to incorrect environmental risk assessments. The current state of the database indicates that much greater efforts are needed to: 1) halt the proliferation of erroneous data and references, 2) initiate a coordinated program to develop improved methods of property determination, 3) establish and maintain consistent reporting requirements for physico-chemical property data, and 4) create a mechanism for archiving reliable data for widespread use in the scientific/regulatory community.


Table of Contents







Literature Errors




Published Original Data

Data Quality

Assessment of DDT/DDE Sw and Kow Original Data Sources

Effect of Methodology

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Appendix A: Data of Uncertain Origin

Appendix B: Assessment of DDT/DDE Sw and Kow Original Data Sources using a Criteria-based Rating System


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