The biodegradation potential of methanol, benzene, and m-xylene in a saturated subsurface environment
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The increased use of alcohols as gasoline additives, and possible substitutes, has prompted the investigation of the fate of gasoline/alcohol mixtures in the environment. In situ bioremediation is one technique that can successfully be applied to remove ground water contaminants particularly in situations where the adsorptive capacity of the soil plays a major role. Frequently, enhanced in situ bioremediation techniques rely on indigenous microorganisms to degrade ground water contaminants; this technique may sometimes include the addition of acclimated bacteria.
In this study, soil microcosms were constructed in order to simulate the conditions found in a saturated aerobic aquifer. The biodegradation potential of methanol, benzene, and m-xylene was investigated. Uncontaminated soil from the surface, 12, 16.5, and 18 foot depths was utilized to observe the differences in microbial responses throughout the soil profile. The biodegradation potential of the indigenous microbiota was determined and compared to that of benzene acclimated bacteria, for all the compounds in the mixture. To observe the impact that chemical and physical soil characteristics may have on microbial responses, soils from each depth were classified on the basis of their particle size, moisture content and pH.
Substantial methanol, benzene, and m-xylene biodegradation by the indigenous microorganisms occurred in all subsurface soils. While methanol was readily biodegradable over concentrations ranging from about 80 mg/L to about 200 mg/L, benzene inhibited methanol biodegradation at about 125 mg/L in all soil depths. The addition of benzene acclimated bacteria considerably increased the biodegradation rates of all compounds in the mixture. Such increases in biodegradation rates may be attributed to the activities of both groups, the indigenous microorganisms and the benzene acclimated bacteria. The results obtained by this study suggest that biodegradation of methanol, benzene, and m-xylene can readily occur in a saturated aerobic subsurface environment. The physical and chemical properties of a ground water aquifer seem to have a marked effect on microbial responses, and consequently on the biodegradation potential of water contaminants.
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