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The Role of Bioattenuation in the Management of Aromatic Hydrocarbon Plumes in Aquifers

Salanitro, Joseph P.
Ground water monitoring & remediation 1993 v.13 no.4 pp. 150-161
BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene), aerobic conditions, aquifers, biodegradation, bioremediation, biotransformation, dissolved oxygen, gasoline, groundwater, microbiology, permeability, scientists, soil, sorption, water quality, water supply
Ground water scientists have made significant advances in understanding the soil interactions, hydrogeology, fate and transport, and subsurface microbiology of aromatic hydrocarbons (BTEX) in aquifer systems. It is now generally recognized that a major factor responsible for the attenuation and mass reduction of BTEX in plumes is the widespread occurrence of hydrocarbon biodegradation by indigenous soil microorganisms in aquifer material. Most well‐studied BTEX plumes that develop from the accidental release of gasoline fuels contain low levels of soluble hydrocarbons (< 1 to 5000 ppb) and have been shown to be spatially confined because of natural biotransformation mechanisms. These in situ processes are controlled by source and aquifer characteristics, permeability, sorption, and geochemical properties of the aquifer. Many laboratory subsoil‐ground water microcosms and field studies (10 to 20 C) have demonstrated the rapid biodecay (1 to SO percent/day for microcosms and 0.5 to 1.5 percent/day for plumes) of these aromatic compounds under primarily aerobic conditions (i.e., those with sufficient dissolved oxygen). The ability to implement ground water bioremediation will depend upon our understanding of source control and aquifer recharge effects on the spatial distribution of plumes. In addition, estimating the biodegradation of sorbed BTEX, determining limits and potential for in situ biostimulation of soluble plumes, and establishing data requirements for predictive modeling of natural attenuation will be useful for this remediation technology. The use of these tools to manage ground water quality appears to represent the most practical alternative, particularly for low‐risk ground water supplies.