Effects of surfactant addition on the biomineralization and microbial toxicity of phenanthrene

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Surfactants are known to increase the apparent aqueous solubility of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and may thereby enhance their bioavailability. In this study the effects of four surfactants on the mineralization of phenanthrene by Pseudomonas aeruginosa in liquid culture and in soil-water suspensions was studied in batch reactors over a 15-week study period. In the absence of surfactant, liquid cultures mineralized approximately 50% of the phenanthrene added within seven weeks following a one-week lag period and an initial mineralization rate of 0.04 mg/d. Mineralization in soil-water suspensions proceeded without any measurable lag period. The initial mineralization rate was lower (0.006 mg/d), but mineralization continued to >70% over the fifteen week period. In general, the addition of very low concentrations of surfactant (≤0.001%) to liquid cultures did not impact mineralization significantly. At higher surfactant concentrations (≥CMC) all surfactants were seen to be inhibitory. In soil-water systems, the rate of phenanthrene mineralization was decreased even at surfactant doses that did not produce significant solubilization. In summary, none of the surfactants enhanced the mineralization of phenanthrene by P. aeruginosa in liquid culture or in soil-water suspensions. In order to rank surfactant toxicity, microbial toxicity tests were performed measuring the light output of bioluminescent bacteria as affected by the presence of surfactants. Additional toxicity testing indicated that the presence of solubilized phenanthrene increased the toxicity of the surfactant by a 100-fold suggesting that the toxicity of solubilized substrate needs also to be considered in the application of surfactant-amended remediation.

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