In situ biodegradation: microbiological patterns in a contaminated aquifer

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Science  10 May 1991:
Vol. 252, Issue 5007, pp. 830-833
DOI: 10.1126/science.2028258


Conventional approaches for proving in situ biodegradation of organic pollutants in aquifers have severe limitations. In the approach described here, patterns in a comprehensive set of microbiological activity and distribution data were analyzed. Measurements were performed on sediment samples gathered at consistent depths in aquifer boreholes spanning a gradient of contaminant concentrations at a buried coal tar site. Microbial adaptation to polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was demonstrated by mineralization of naphthalene and phenanthrene in samples from PAH-contaminated, but not adjacent pristine, zones. Furthermore, contaminant-stimulated in situ bacterial growth was indicated because enhanced numbers of protozoa and their bacterial prey were found exclusively in contaminated subsurface samples. The data suggest that many convergent lines of logically linked indirect evidence can effectively document in situ biodegradation of aquifer contaminants.

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