A certain amount of wood char or soot in a soil or sediment sample may cause the sorption of organic compounds to deviate significantly from the linear partitioning commonly observed with soil organic matter (SOM). Laboratory produced and field wood chars have been obtained and analyzed for their sorption isotherms of a model solute (phenanthrene) from water solution. The uptake capacities and nonlinear sorption effects with the laboratory wood chars are similar to those with the field wood chars. For phenanthrene aqueous concentrations of 1 ??gl-1, the organic carbon-normalized sorption coefficients (log Koc) ranging from 5.0 to 6.4 for field chars and 5.4-7.3 for laboratory wood chars, which is consistent with literature values (5.6-7.1). Data with artificial chars suggest that the variation in sorption potential can be attributed to heating temperature and starting material, and both the quantity and heterogeneity of surface-area impacts the sorption capacity. These results thus help to corroborate and explain the range of log Koc values reported in previous research for aquifer materials containing wood chars. ?? 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.