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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Using Nitrogen Limiting Growth Conditions to Remove Atrazine from Groundwater: Laboratory Studies

item Hunter, William
item Shaner, Dale

Submitted to: In Situ and on Site Bioremediation Symposium Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/1/2009
Publication Date: 9/10/2009
Citation: Hunter, W.J., Shaner, D.L. 2009. Using Nitrogen Limiting Growth Conditions to Remove Atrazine from Groundwater: Laboratory Studies. In Situ and on Site Bioremediation Symposium Proceedings. ISBN: 978-0-9819730-1-2.

Interpretive Summary: Atrazine is a common ground water contaminate due to its high usage (in the US almost 35 million kg of atrazine are used each year), high mobility and recalcitrant nature. A recent study showed that nitrogen-limiting biobarriers can remove atrazine from flowing groundwater but that 5 ppm nitrate-N interfered with the process. This study proposed a method that used two biobarriers in sequence to remove both nitrate and atrazine from water. The initial barrier, a-soybean-oil based barrier, removes nitrate while the second barrier, an aerobic barrier, removes atrazine. Under laboratory conditions the sequence of two barriers worked well removing both contaminants from water that was pumped through the barriers during a 20 week study. The presence of bacteria that are capable of degrading atrazine is required for the barriers to work. Biobarriers based on this technology might be used in-situ to remediate water from aquifers that is contaminated with both nitrate and atrazine or to protect aquifers from nitrate and atrazine contamination.

Technical Abstract: In the past microbial redox reactions have been the driving mechanism behind in situ bioremediations that use a carbon substrate. This is because subsurface microbial activity is generally restricted by electron (e-) donor availability and microbial activity, growth and respiration, can be stimulated by the addition of compounds that function as respiratory e- donors. The increased respiration will usually drive the system anaerobic. Under these conditions groundwater contaminants that can serve as microbial respiratory e- acceptors (i.e. nitrate, perchlorate, trichloroethylene, etc.) are often reduced to less harmful compounds. In contrast, for this study, a different driving mechanism was employed. The microbial degradation of atrazine made use of atrazine’s potential to function as a source of nitrogen. Within the biobarrier the environment that was established was one where it was the supply of nitrogen that limited microbial activity. Other growth requirements, e- donor(s) and e- acceptor(s), were available in adequate or excess amounts. An additional requirement was that the biobarriers be bioaugmented with a microbial inoculum containing microorganisms capable of degrading atrazine. For this study two reactors placed in series were used. The first was a biobarrier formed in a sand filled column by coating the sand with soybean oil as the columns were packed. The porous matrix allowed water to flow freely through the biobarriers while the oil provided a carbon rich and nitrogen poor substrate to the microbial inoculum. The second was an air injection reactor at the effluent end of the biobarrier. A simulated groundwater containing 1 mg/L atrazine and 5 mg/L nitrate-N was pumped through the columns for 22 weeks. At intervals effluents from the biobarriers were collected and analyzed for atrazine and nitrate. The results showed that the first reactor, the biobarrier, was effective at removing nitrate and the second reactor, the aerobic reactor, was effective at removing atrazine. Atrazine levels in the effluents of the 1st reactor, the anaerobic reactor, remained high throughout the study but declined with time in the 2nd reactor, the aerobic reactor, and by the 20th week of the study no detectable atrazine was present in biobarrier effluents (limit of detection < 0.005 mg/L). Such barriers, when inoculated with atrazine degrading bacteria, might be used in situ to remove atrazine from aquifers that are contaminated with both nitrate and atrazine.

Last Modified: 08/16/2017
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