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    Natural attenuation processes depend on the availability of suitable electron acceptors. At the megasite Zeitz, concentrations of the main contaminant benzene were observed to increase constantly in the lower aquifer to levels of more than 2.5 mM. This was accompanied by decreasing concentrations of sulphate (SO42-), which has been previously shown to be the main electron acceptor for benzene oxidation at this site, resulting in an electron acceptor-limited, sulphidic benzene plume. Therefore, a field experiment was conducted to stimulate benzene biodegradation by injecting nitrate (NO3-) into the sulphidic benzene plume aiming (i) to recycle sulphate by nitrate-dependent sulphide oxidation, and (ii) to serve as direct electron acceptor for benzene oxidation. Within 60 days, 6.74 tons sodium nitrate (NaNO3) were injected into the lower aquifer, and the resulting biogeochemical effects within the benzene plume were monitored for more than one year by chemical and microbiological analyses of groundwater samples taken from various depths of ten monitoring wells located in three observation lines downstream of nitrate injection. Nitrate was microbiologically consumed, as shown by changes in δ15N-NO3- and δ18O-NO3- values, partial nitrite accumulation, and changing ratios of Na+/NO3-. Main electron donors for nitrate reduction were reduced sulphur compounds, verified by changing δ34S-SO42- and δ18O-SO42- values, partially increasing sulphate concentrations, and strongly increasing abundances of typical sulphur-oxidizing, nitrate-reducing bacterial taxa within the nitrate plume. The general absent hydrogen isotope fractionation of benzene, also in the sulphidic, nitrate-free part of the plume, indicates that benzene was not biodegraded by sulphate-reducing consortia. However, detected small carbon isotope fractionation of benzene points to in situ benzene biodegradation processes in the plume, probably supported by nitrate. In conclusion, nitrate injection resulted in changing redox conditions and recycling of sulphate in the sulphidic, sulphate-depleted benzene plume due to microbial oxidation of reduced sulphur species, leading to presumably favored conditions for in situ benzene biodegradation. Copyright © 2021 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


    Christin Müller, Kay Knöller, Rico Lucas, Sabine Kleinsteuber, Ralf Trabitzsch, Holger Weiß, Reiner Stollberg, Hans Hermann Richnow, Carsten Vogt. Benzene degradation in contaminated aquifers: Enhancing natural attenuation by injecting nitrate. Journal of contaminant hydrology. 2021 Mar;238:103759

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    PMID: 33461044

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