Biodegradation of hydrocarbon mixtures in surface waters at environmentally relevant levels - Effect of inoculum origin on kinetics and sequence of degradation

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Biodegradation is a dominant removal process for many organic pollutants, and biodegradation tests serve as tools for assessing their environmental fate within regulatory risk assessment. In simulation tests, the inoculum is not standardized, varying in microbial quantity and quality, thereby potentially impacting the observed biodegradation kinetics. In this study we investigated the effect of inoculum origin on the biodegradation kinetics of hydrocarbons for five inocula from surface waters varying in urbanization and thus expected pre-exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons. A new biodegradation method for testing mixtures of hydrophobic chemicals at trace concentrations was demonstrated: Aqueous solutions containing 9 hydrocarbons were generated by passive dosing and diluted with surface water resulting in test systems containing native microorganisms exposed to test substances at ng-μg/L levels. Automated Headspace Solid Phase Microextraction coupled to GC-MS was applied directly to these test systems to determine substrate depletion relative to abiotic controls. Lag phases were generally less than 8 days. First order rate constants were within one order of magnitude for each hydrocarbon in four of the five waters but lower in water from a rural lake. The sequence of degradation between the 9 hydrocarbons showed similar patterns in the five waters indicating the potential for using selected hydrocarbons for benchmarking between biodegradation tests. Degradation half-times were shorter than or within one order of magnitude of BioHCwin predictions for 8 of 9 hydrocarbons. These results showed that location choice is important for biodegradation kinetics and can provide a relevant input to aquatic exposure and fate models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)400-407
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Biodegradation kinetics
  • Composed mixtures
  • Passive dosing
  • SPME
  • Volatile petroleum hydrocarbons

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