Nutrient-limited biodegradation of PAH in various soil strata at a creosote contaminated site

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The effects of nutrient addition on the in situ biodegradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in creosote contaminated soil were studied in soil columns taken from various soil strata at a wood preserving plant in Norway. Three samples were used: one from the topsoil (0–0.5 m), one from an organic rich layer (2–2.5 m) and one from the sandy aquifer (4.5–5 m). The addition of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorous stimulated the degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the top soil and the aquifer sand. These two soils, which differed strongly in contamination levels, responded similarly to nutrient addition with the corresponding degradation of 4-ring PAHs. The ratio between available nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) might explain the degree of degradation observed for the 4-ring PAHs. However, the degree of degradation of 3-ring PAHs did not significantly increase after nutrient addition. An increase in the respiration rate, after nutrient addition, could only be observed in the topsoil. In the aquifer sand, 4-ring PAH degradation was not accompanied by an increase in the respiration rate or the number of heterotrophic micro-organisms. PAH degradation in the organic layer did not respond to nutrient addition. This was probably due to the low availability of the contaminants for micro-organisms, as a result of sorption to the soil organic matter. Our data illustrate the need for a better understanding of the role of nutrients in the degradation of high molecular weight hydrocarbons for the successful application of bioremediation at PAH contaminated sites.

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