The oxidation of [14C]methyl bromide ([14C]MeBr) to 14CO2 was measured in field experiments with soils collected from two strawberry plots fumigated with mixtures of MeBr and chloropicrin (CCI3NO2). Although these fumigants are considered potent biocides, we found that the highest rates of MeBr oxidation occurred 1 to 2 days after injection when the fields were tarped, rather than before or several days after injection. No oxidation of MeBr occurred in heat-killed soils, indicating that microbes were the causative agents of the oxidation. Degradation of MeBr by chemical and/or biological processes accounted for 20 to 50% of the loss of MeBr during fumigation, with evasion to the atmosphere inferred to comprise the remainder. In laboratory incubations, complete removal of [14C]MeBr occurred within a few days, with 47 to 67% of the added MeBr oxidized to 14CO2 and the remainder of counts associated with the solid phase. Chloropicrin inhibited the oxidation of MeBr, implying that use of this substance constrains the extent of microbial degradation of MeBr during fumigation. Oxidation was by direct bacterial attack of MeBr and not of methanol, a product of the chemical hydrolysis of MeBr. Neither nitrifying nor methane-oxidizing bacteria were sufficiently active in these soils to account for the observed oxidation of MeBr, nor could the microbial degradation of MeBr be linked to cooxidation with exogenously supplied electron donors. However, repeated addition of MeBr to live soils resulted in higher rates of its removal, suggesting that soil bacteria used MeBr as an electron donor for growth. To support this interpretation, we isolated a gram-negative, aerobic bacterium from these soils which grew with MeBr as a sole source of carbon and energy.
Additional publication details
Bacterial oxidation of methyl bromide in fumigated agricultural soils