Water, Air, and Soil Pollution

, Volume 168, Issue 1, pp 325-357

First online:

Part 1: Vadose-Zone Column Studies of Toluene (Enhanced Bioremediation) in a Shallow Unconfined Aquifer

  • James A. TindallAffiliated withU.S. Geological Survey, National Research Program, Denver Federal Center Email author 
  • , Michael J. FriedelAffiliated withGeologic Division, U.S. Geological Survey
  • , Richard J. SzmajterAffiliated withGIS Dept.
  • , Sally M. CuffinAffiliated withCH2 M-Hill

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The objectives of the laboratory study described in this paper were (1) to determine the effectiveness of four nutrient solutions and a control in stimulating the microbial degradation of toluene in the unsaturated zone as an alternative to bioremediation methodologies such as air sparging, in situ vitrification, or others (Part I), and (2) to compare the effectiveness of the addition of the most effective nutrient solution from Part I (modified Hoagland type, nitrate-rich) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) on microbial degradation of toluene for repeated, simulated spills in the unsaturated zone (Part II).

For Part 1, fifteen columns (30-cm diameter by 150-cm height), packed with air-dried, 0.25-mm, medium-fine sand, were prepared to simulate shallow unconfined aquifer conditions. Toluene (10 mL) was added to the surface of each column, and soil solution and soil gas samples were collected from the columns every third day for 21 days. On day 21, a second application of toluene (10 mL) was made, and the experiment was run for another 21 days. Solution 4 was the most effective for microbial degradation in Part I. For Part II, three columns were designated nutrient-rich 3-day toluene columns and received toluene injections every 3 days; three columns were designated as nutrient-rich 7-day columns and received toluene injections every 7 days; and two columns were used as controls to which no nutrient was added.

As measured by CO2 respiration, the initial benefits for aerobic organisms from the O2 enhancement were sustained by the bacteria for only a short period of time (about 8 days). Degradation benefits from the nutrient solution were sustained throughout the experiment.

The O2 and nutrient-enhanced columns degraded significantly more toluene than the control columns when simulating repeated spills onto the unsaturated zone, and demonstrated a potentially effective in situ bioremediation technology when used immediately or within days after a spill. The combined usage of H2O2 and nitrate-rich nutrients served to effectively maximize natural aerobic and anaerobic metabolic processes that biodegrade hydrocarbons in petroleum-contaminated media. Applications of this technology in the field may offer economical advantages to other, more intrusive abatement technologies.


biodegradation transport remediation toluene