Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 3733–3743 | Cite as

Elevated root retention of hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX) in coniferous trees

  • Bernd SchoenmuthEmail author
  • Jakob O. Mueller
  • Tanja Scharnhorst
  • Detlef Schenke
  • Carmen Büttner
  • Wilfried Pestemer
Research Article


For decades, the explosive RDX (hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine) has been used for military and industrial applications. Residues of RDX pollute soils in large areas globally and the persistence and high soil mobility of these residues can lead to leaching into groundwater. Dendroremediation, i.e. the long-term use of trees to clean up polluted soils, is gaining acceptance as a green and sustainable strategy. Although the coniferous tree species Norway spruce and Scots pine cover large areas of military land in Central Europe, the potential of any coniferous tree for dendroremediation of RDX is still unknown. In this study, uptake experiments with a 14C-labelled RDX solution (30 mg L−1) revealed that RDX was predominantly retained in the roots of 6-year-old coniferous trees. Only 23 % (pine) to 34 % (spruce) of RDX equivalents (RDXeq) taken up by the roots were translocated to aboveground tree compartments. This finding contrasts with the high aerial accumulation of RDXeq (up to 95 %) in the mass balances of all other plant species. Belowground retention of RDXeq is relatively stable in fine root fractions, since water leaching from tissue homogenates was less than 5 %. However, remobilisation from milled coarse roots and tree stubs reached up to 53 %. Leaching from homogenised aerial tree material was found to reach 64 % for needles, 58 % for stems and twigs and 40 % for spring sprouts. Leaching of RDX by precipitation increases the risk for undesired re-entry into the soil. However, it also opens the opportunity for microbial mineralisation in the litter layer or in the rhizosphere of coniferous forests and offers a chance for repeated uptake of RDX by the tree roots.


Phytoremediation Dendroremediation Explosives Hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine 14C-RDX uptake Leaching Pinus sylvestris Picea abies Tree compartments 



Dry matter; dry mass


Liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry


Liquid scintillation counting




Research Department Explosive; Royal Demolition Explosive



We gratefully acknowledge the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for granting the present work within the project PE213/6-1. Thanks are due to all colleagues of the Julius Kühn-Institut for excellent collaboration and use of the radioanalytical equipment. Special thanks are due to Sandra Combrinck and Robert McCrindle (TUT, Pretoria, South Africa) for critical editing of the English.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernd Schoenmuth
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jakob O. Mueller
    • 1
  • Tanja Scharnhorst
    • 1
  • Detlef Schenke
    • 2
  • Carmen Büttner
    • 1
  • Wilfried Pestemer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Crop and Animal Sciences, Section PhytomedicineHumboldt University Berlin, Faculty of Agriculture and HorticultureBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Julius Kühn-Institut, Federal Research Centre for Cultivated PlantsInstitute for Ecological Chemistry, Plant Analysis and Stored Product ProtectionBerlinGermany

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