The biodegradation of phenols (similar to 5, 60, 600 mg 1(-1)) under anaerobic conditions (nitrate enriched and unamended) was studied in laboratory microcosms with sandstone material and groundwater from within an anaerobic ammonium plume in an aquifer, The aqueous phase was sampled and analyzed for phenols and selected redox sensitive parameters on a regular basis. An experiment with sandstone material from specific depth intervals from a vertical profile across the ammonium plume was also conducted. The miniature microcosms used in this experiment were sacrificed for sampling for phenols and selected redox sensitive parameters at the end of the experiment. The sandstone material was characterized with respect to oxidation and reduction potential and Fe(II) and Fe(III) speciation prior to use for all microcosms and at the end of the experiments for selected microcosms. The redox conditions in the anaerobic microcosms were mixed nitrate and Fe(III) reducing. Nitrate and Fe(III) were apparently the dominant electron accepters at high and low nitrate concentrations, respectively. When biomass growth is taken into account, nitrate and Fe(III) reduction constituted sufficient electron acceptor capacity for the mineralization of the phenols observed to be degraded even at an initial phenols concentration of similar to 60 mg 1(-1) (high) in an unamended microcosm, whereas nitrate reduction alone is unlikely to have provided sufficient electron acceptor capacity for the observed degradation of the phenols, in the unamended microcosm. For microcosm systems. with solid aquifer materials. dissolution of organic substances from the solid material may occur. A quantitative determination of the speciation (mineral types and quantity) of electron acceptors associated with the solids, at levels relevant for degradation of specific organic compounds in aquifers, cannot always be obtained. Hence, complete mass balances of electron acceptor consumption fur specific organic compounds degradation are difficult to confine. For aquifer materials with low initial Fe(II) content, Fe(II) determinations on solids and in aqueous phase samples may provide valuable information on Fe(III) reduction. However, in microcosms with natural sediments and where electron acceptors are associated with the sediments, complete mass-balances for substrates and electron accepters are not likely to be obtained. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.