Glacially buried paleosols of pre-Holocene age were evaluated as potential sources for anomalously large concentrations of ammonium in groundwater in East Central Illinois. Ammonium has been detected at concentrations that are problematic to water treatment facilities (greater than 2.0 mg/L) in this region. Paleosols characterized for this study were of Quaternary age, specifically Robein Silt samples. Paleosol samples displayed significant capacity to both store and release ammonium through experiments measuring processes of sorption, ion exchange, and weathering. Bacteria and fungi within paleosols may significantly facilitate the leaching of ammonium into groundwater by the processes of assimilation and mineralization. Bacterial genetic material (DNA) was successfully extracted from the Robein Silt, purified, and amplified by polymerase chain reaction to produce 16S rRNA terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (TRFLP) community analyses. The Robein Silt was found to have established diverse and viable bacterial communities. 16S rRNA TRFLP comparisons to well-known bacterial species yielded possible matches with facultative chemolithotrophs, cellulose consumers, nitrate reducers, and actinomycetes. It was concluded that the Robein Silt is both a source and reservoir for groundwater ammonium. Therefore, the occurrence of relatively large concentrations of ammonium in groundwater monitoring data may not necessarily be an indication of only anthropogenic contamination. The results of this study, however, need to be placed in a hydrological context to better understand whether paleosols can be a significant source of ammonium to drinking water supplies. ?? 2009 National Ground Water Association.
Additional publication details
Paleosols in central Illinois as potential sources of ammonium in groundwater