Relationships Between Hybrid Poplar Tree Extractives and Ground Water Contamination at a Phytoremediation Site
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In 1997, a phytoremediation program began at a creosote-contaminated former railroad tie yard in Oneida, Tennessee with the planting of over 1000 hybrid poplar trees onsite. Creosote, a mixture of hazardous chemicals composed of 85% polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) had entered the site soil and ground water. After planting, a seasonal ground water testing program began that monitored the progress of remediation by measuring the concentration of the 10 predominant PAHs in the contaminant plume: naphthalene, acenaphthylene, acenaphthene, fluorene, phenanthrene, anthracene, fluoranthene, pyrene, chrysene, and benzo(b)fluoranthene. The concentrations of these compounds steadily decreased over time, but the role the trees played in the remediation was unclear.
In order to gain a clearer understanding of the role the trees played in contaminant remediation, chemical analysis of tree tissue began. It was not known whether the trees were taking up PAH contaminants or their metabolites or if the rhizosphere zone created by the trees simply enhanced the ability of the site microflora to degrade the PAH. The objectives of this research were to (1) develop a suitable method for the chemical analysis of tree tissue collected from a field site, (2) determine if there were any chemicals not usually found in poplar trees that occurred in the trees growing over contamination, (3) determine if bud, bark, and twig tissue differed in their ability to predict ground water contamination, and (4) determine if a spatial correlation existed between the aromatic compounds in the tree tissue and the ground water total PAH plume.
Two types of tree tissue/ground water comparisons were performed: spatial distribution of isoeugenol concentration in tree tissue with spatial distribution of total PAH in ground water over the area of interest; and the spatial distribution of the quantity of aromatic compounds in tree tissue with the spatial distribution of total PAH concentration in ground water. Due to unit discrepancies between the quantities of interest, all comparisons were made on a percentile basis.
Initial tree sampling revealed that several compounds not usually present in poplar trees occurred only in those trees growing over contamination. In the first part of this study, the concentration of one of these chemicals, the substituted phenol isoeugenol, was compared with the concentration of total PAH in ground water from samples collected from February-March 2002. The bark tissue percentiles fell within 20 percentiles of ground water total PAH concentrations in 60% of the study area. The twig tissue showed slightly better agreement, with 67% of the study area differing from ground water by twenty percentiles or less.
The second comparison took place over three sampling events: March 2001, July 2001, and February-March 2002. The number of unique aromatic compounds in bark, bud, and twig tissue was compared with the total PAH concentration in ground water. Twig tissue aromatic compound content was the most accurate predictor of ground water contamination among the tissue types. After excluding those chemicals likely to be interferences from consideration, twig tissue aromatic content agreed with ground water total PAH concentration to within 20 percentiles over 2/3 or more of the study area during each sampling event, suggesting the potential uptake of PAHs or their microbial metabolites as a mechanism of phytoremediation at the site.
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