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Response of sulfate-reducing bacteria and supporting microbial community to persulfate exposure in a continuous flow system

Bartlett, Christopher K., Slawson, Robin M., Thomson, Neil R.
Environmental science 2019 v.21 no.7 pp. 1193-1203
BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene), acclimation, aquifers, benzene, bioreactors, bioremediation, ethylbenzene, microbial communities, oxidation, pH, petroleum, sulfate-reducing bacteria, sulfates, systems engineering, toluene, xylene
Coupling of chemical oxidation using persulfate with bioremediation has been proposed as a method to increase remedial efficacy at petroleum hydrocarbon contaminated sites. To support this integrated treatment approach, an understanding of persulfate impact on the indigenous microbial community is necessary for system design. As sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) are active in most aquifer systems and can utilize the sulfate generated from the degradation of persulfate, this study assessed the impact on SRB and the supporting anaerobic microbial community when exposed to persulfate in a continuous flow system. A series of bioreactors (1000 L) packed with anaerobic aquifer material were operated for an 8 month acclimatization period before being continuously subjected to benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (total BTEX 3 mg L⁻¹). After 2 months, the bioreactors were then exposed to an unactivated persulfate solution (20 g L⁻¹), or an alkaline-activated persulfate solution (20 g L⁻¹, pH 12) then effluent-sampled for 60 days following. A combination of culture and molecular-based techniques were used to monitor SRB presence and structural profiles in the anaerobic SRB-specific and broader microbial community. Post-exposure, the rate of BTEX mass removal remained below pre-exposure values; however, trends suggest that full recovery would be expected. Rebound of SRB-specific and the associated microbial community to pre-exposure levels were observed in all exposed bioreactors. Structural community profiles identified recovery in both microbial species and diversity indices. Findings from this investigation demonstrate robustness of SRB in the presence of a supporting microbial community and, thus, are suitable organisms for target use during bioremediation in an integrated system with persulfate.