Journal article

Contribution of anaerobic microbial activity to natural attenuation of benzene in groundwater

Anaerobic biodegradation of hydrocarbons, using a variety of terminal electron acceptors (TEAs), is increasingly being reported both in laboratory studies and in the field. Of all the petroleum hydrocarbons, benzene is considered the most problematical due to its high toxicity and relatively high aqueous solubility. These, combined with its peculiarly stable structure, mean that it has long been considered recalcitrant in all but aerobic conditions. There is now a small, but growing, literature to suggest that this may not in fact be the case. We present an assessment of the field, encompassing reviews up to 1997 and original papers published since then. It appears that benzene is indeed degraded anaerobically, but that organisms capable of doing so are not ubiquitous. In addition, benzene degradation may be competitively inhibited by the presence of more readily degraded compounds such as toluene. Certainly, the occurrence and rate of benzene attenuation under anaerobic conditions is far more site- specific than for other benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (BTEX) compounds. We discuss a mathematical method for modelling redox-dependent, differential degradation rates.


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