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J Contam Hydrol. 2001 Oct;51(3-4):179-95.

In situ assessment of microbial sulfate reduction in a petroleum-contaminated aquifer using push-pull tests and stable sulfur isotope analyses.

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  • 1Institute of Terrestrial Ecology-Soil Biology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Z├╝rich (ETHZ), Grabenstrasse 3, CH-8952 Schlieren, Switzerland. schroth@ito.umnw.ethz.ch


Anaerobic microbial activities such as sulfate reduction are important for the degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons (PHC) in contaminated aquifers. The objective of this study was to evaluate the feasibility of single-well push-pull tests in combination with stable sulfur isotope analyses for the in situ quantification of microbial sulfate reduction. A series of push-pull tests was performed in an existing monitoring well of a PHC-contaminated aquifer in Studen (Switzerland). Sulfate transport behavior was evaluated in a first test. In three subsequent tests, we injected anoxic test solutions (up to 1000 l), which contained 0.5 mM bromide (Br-) as conservative tracer and 1 mM sulfate (SO4(2-)) as reactant. After an initial incubation period of 42.5 to 67.9 h, up to 1100 l of test solution/groundwater mixture was extracted in each test from the same location. During the extraction phases, we measured concentrations of relevant species including Br-, SO4(2-) and sulfide (S(-II)), as well as stable sulfur isotope ratios (delta 34S) of extracted, unconsumed SO4(2-) and extracted S(-II). Results indicated sulfate reduction activity in the vicinity of the test well. Computed first-order rate coefficients for sulfate reduction ranged from 0.043 +/- 0.013 to 0.130 +/- 0.015 day-1. Isotope enrichment factors (epsilon) computed from sulfur isotope fractionation of extracted, unconsumed SO4(2-) ranged from 20.2 +/- 5.5@1000 to 22.8 +/- 3.4@1000. Together with observed fractionation in extracted S(-II), isotope enrichment factors provided strong evidence for microbially mediated sulfate reduction. Thus, push-pull tests combined with stable sulfur isotope analyses proved useful for the in situ quantification of microbial sulfate reduction in a PHC-contaminated aquifer.

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