Environmental science and pollution research international

Characterisation of microbial activity in the framework of natural attenuation without groundwater monitoring wells?: a new Direct-Push probe.

PMID 23589263


At many contaminated field sites in Europe, monitored natural attenuation is a feasible site remediation option. Natural attenuation includes several processes but only the microbial degradation leads to real contaminant removal and very few methods are accepted by the authorities providing real evidence of microbial contaminant degradation activity. One of those methods is the recently developed in situ microcosm approach (BACTRAP®). These in situ microcosms consist of perforated stainless steel cages or PTFE tubes filled with an activated carbon matrix that is amended with 13C-labelled contaminants; the microcosms are then exposed within groundwater monitoring wells. Based on this approach, natural attenuation was accepted by authorities as a site remediation option for the BTEX-polluted site Zeitz in Germany. Currently, the in situ microcosms are restricted to the use inside groundwater monitoring wells at the level of the aquifer. The (classical) system therefore is only applicable on field sites with a network of monitoring wells, and only microbial activity inside the monitoring wells at the level of the aquifer can be assessed. In order to overcome these limitations, a new Direct-Push BACTRAP probe was developed on the basis of the Geoprobe® equipment. With respect to the mechanical boundary conditions of the DP technique, these new probes were constructed in a rugged and segmented manner and are adaptable to various sampling concepts. With this new probe, the approach can be extended to field sites without existing monitoring wells, and microbial activity was demonstrated to be measureable even under very dry conditions inside the vadose zone above the aquifer. In a field test, classical and Direct-Push BACTRAPs were applied in the BTEX-contaminated aquifer at the ModelPROBE reference site Zeitz (Germany). Both types of BACTRAPs were incubated in the centre and at the fringe of the BTEX plume. Analysis of phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) patterns showed that the bacterial communities on DP-BACTRAPs were more similar to the soil than those found on classical BACTRAPs. During microbial degradation of the (13)C-labelled substrate on the carrier material of the microcosms, the label was only slightly incorporated into bacterial biomass, as determined by PLFA analysis. This provides clear indication for decreased in situ natural attenuation potential in comparison to earlier sampling campaigns, which is presumably caused by a large-scale source remediation measure in the meantime. In conclusion, Direct-Push-based BACTRAPs offer a promising way to monitor natural attenuation or remediation success at field sites which are currently inaccessible by the technique due to the lack of monitoring wells or due to a main contamination present within the vadose zone.