Microbial communities indigenous to a shallow groundwater system near Beaufort, SC, degraded milligram per liter concentrations of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) under natural and artificial oxic conditions. Significant MTBE biodegradation was observed where anoxic, MTBE-contaminated groundwater discharged to a concrete-lined ditch. In the anoxic groundwater adjacent to the ditch, concentrations of MTBE were > 1 mg/L. Where groundwater discharge occurs, dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations beneath the ditch exceeded 1.0 mg/L to a depth of 1.5 m, and MTBE concentrations decreased to <1 ??g/L prior to discharge. MTBE mass flux calculations indicate that 96% of MTBE mass loss occurs in the relatively small oxic zone prior to discharge. Samples of a natural microbial biofilm present in the oxic zone beneath the ditch completely degraded [U-14C]MTBE to [14C]CO2 in laboratory liquid culture studies, with no accumulation of intermediate compounds. Upgradient of the ditch in the anoxic, MTBE and BTEX-contaminated aquifer, addition of a soluble oxygen release compound resulted in oxic conditions and rapid MTBE biodegradation by indigenous microorganisms. In an observation well located closest to the oxygen addition area, DO concentrations increased from 0.4 to 12 mg/L in <60 days and MTBE concentrations decreased from 20 to 3 mg/L. In the same time period at a downgradient observation well, DO increased from <0.2 to 2 mg/L and MTBE concentrations decreased from 30 to <5 mg/L. These results indicate that microorganisms indigenous to the groundwater system at this site can degrade milligram per liter concentrations of MTBE under natural and artificial oxic conditions.
Additional publication details
Methyl tert-butyl ether biodegradation by indigenous aquifer microorganisms under natural and artificial oxic conditions