Azaarenes or aromatic nitrogen heterocycles are a class of compounds found in wood-preservative wastes containing creosote. The fate and movement of these compounds in contaminated aquifers is not well understood. Water-quality studies in an aquifer contaminated with creosote near Pensacola, Florida, indicated that ground water was contaminated with several azaarenes and their oxygenated and alkylated derivatives, suggesting that these oxygenated compounds may be products of microbial transformation reactions. Accordingly, laboratory studies were designed to investigate the fate of these compounds. Under aerobic conditions, soil pseudomonads isolated from creosote-contaminated soil converted quinoline to 2(1H)quinoline that subsequently was degraded to unknown products. A methanogenic consortium isolated from an anaerobic sewage digestor, in presence of ground-water and creosote-contaminated soil, converted quinoline, isoquinoline, and 4-methylquinoline to their respective oxygenated analogs. In addition, N-, C-, and O-methylated analogs of oxygenated azaarenes were identified by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) in aerobic cultures. Under the experimental conditions, 2-methylquinoline was biorefractory. Presence of similar biotransformation products in anaerobic cultures and contaminated ground water from the Pensacola site provided further evidence that these compounds indeed were mivrobial transformation products. Stable isotope labeling studies indicated that the source of the oxygen atom for this hydroxylation reaction under aerobic and anaerobic conditions was water. A mechanism was proposed for this hydroxylation reaction. Whereas parent azaarenes are biodegradable in both anaerobic and aerobic zones, oxygenated and alkylated analogs are more biorefractory and, hence, persistent in anaerobic zones of contaminated aquifers.