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Biostimulation of Oil Sands Process-Affected Water with Phosphate Yields Removal of Sulfur-Containing Organics and Detoxification

Quesnel, Dean M., Oldenburg, Thomas B. P., Larter, Stephen R., Gieg, Lisa M., Chua, Gordon
Environmental Science & Technology 2015 v.49 no.21 pp. 13012-13020
Schizosaccharomyces pombe, algae, bioremediation, cell membranes, mass spectrometry, microorganisms, mutants, naphthenates, oil sands, oxidative stress, phosphates, photosynthesis, sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate, toxicity, transcription (genetics), transcription factors, Alberta
The ability to mitigate toxicity of oil sands process-affected water (OSPW) for return into the environment is an important issue for effective tailings management in Alberta, Canada. OSPW toxicity has been linked to classical naphthenic acids (NAs), but the toxic contribution of other acid-extractable organics (AEOs) remains unknown. Here, we examine the potential for in situ bioremediation of OSPW AEOs by indigenous algae. Phosphate biostimulation was performed in OSPW to promote the growth of indigenous photosynthetic microorganisms and subsequent toxicity and chemical changes were determined. After 12 weeks, the AEO fraction of phosphate-biostimulated OSPW was significantly less toxic to the fission yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe than unstimulated OSPW. Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FTICR-MS) analysis of the AEO fraction in phosphate-biostimulated OSPW showed decreased levels of SO₃ class compounds, including a subset that may represent linear arylsulfonates. A screen with S. pombe transcription factor mutant strains for growth sensitivity to the AEO fraction or sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate revealed a mode of toxic action consistent with oxidative stress and detrimental effects on cellular membranes. These findings demonstrate a potential algal-based in situ bioremediation strategy for OSPW AEOs and uncover a link between toxicity and AEOs other than classical NAs.