Most of the organic matter in naturally colored surface waters consists of a mixture of carboxylic acids or salts of these acids. Many of the acids color the water yellow to brown; however, not all of the acids are colored. These acids range from simple to complex, but predominantly they are nonvolatile polymeric carboxylic acids.
The organic acids were recovered from the water by two techniques: continuous liquid-liquid extraction with n-butanol and vacuum evaporation at 50?C (centigrade). The isolated acids were studied by techniques of gas, paper, and column chromatography and infrared spectroscopy.
About 10 percent of the acids recovered were volatile or could be made volatile for gas chromatographic analysis. Approximately 30 of these carboxylic acids were isolated, and 13 of them were individually identified. The predominant part of the total acids could not be made volatile for gas chromatographic analysis. Infrared examination of many column chromatographic fractions indicated that these nonvolatile substances are primarily polymeric hydroxy carboxylic acids having aromatic and olefinic unsaturation. The evidence suggests that some of these acids result from polymerization in aqueous solution. Elemental analysis of the sodium fusion products disclosed the absence of nitrogen, sulfur, and halogens.