||Contamination of groundwater supplies by gasoline and other petroleum-derived hydrocarbons released from underground or aboveground storage tanks is a serious and widespread environmental problem. Corrosion, ground movement, and poor sealing can cause leaks in tanks and associated piping. Petroleum hydrocarbons contain methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) (a fuel oxygenate), benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene isomers (BTEX), the major components of gasoline, which are hazardous substances regulated by many nations. MTBE possesses all the characteristics of a persistent compound in the subsurface: high solubility, low volatility, low sediment sorption, and resistance to biodegradation. The objectives of this study were to (1) evaluate the biodegradibility of MTBE under aerobic conditions, and (2) assess the potential of using the aerobic bioremediation technique to clean up aquifers contaminated by MTBE. |
In this study, microcosms were constructed to determine the feasibility of biodegrading MTBE by intrinsic microbial consortia (aquifer sediments) under aerobic and aerobic cometabolic conditions. In the cometabolic microcosms, propane, ethanol, and BTEX were applied as the primary substracts to enhance the biodegradation of MTBE. The inocula used in this microcosm study were aquifer sediments collected from the contaminated-zones of a petroleum-hydrocarbon (including MTBE) contaminated site. Microcosms were constructed with nutrient medium (or site groundwater), sediments, and MTBE solution in 70-mL serum bottles sealed with Teflon-lined rubber septa. MTBE was analyzed using purge-and-trap instrument following gas chromatography (GC)/flame ionization detector (FID).
Results show that the indigenous microorganisms were able to biodegrade MTBE under aerobic conditions using MTBE as the sole primary substrate. Microcosms with site groundwater as the medium solution show higher MTBE biodegradation rate. This indicates that site groundwater might contain some trace minerals or organics, which could enhance the MTBE biodegradation rate. Results show that the addition of BTEX would also enhance the MTBE removal. However, no significant MTBE biodegradation was observed in microcosms with propane and ethanol as the primary substrates. This reveals that the supplement of the second carbon source might inhibit the degradation of MTBE due to the preferential removal of some organics over MTBE. Results from the microcosm study suggest that aerobic biodegradation plays an important role on the MTBE removal. Intrinsic bioremediation is a feasible technology to remediate the studied MTBE-contaminated site.