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Biodegradation. 2004 Aug;15(4):261-74.

Does bioavailability limit biodegradation? A comparison of hydrocarbon biodegradation and desorption rates in aged soils.

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  • 1Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory, 1529 West Sequim Bay Road, Sequim, WA 98382, USA.


In order to determine whether bioavailability limits the biodegradability of petroleum hydrocarbons in aged soils, both the biodegradation and abiotic desorption rates of PAHs and n-alkanes were measured at various time points in six different aged soils undergoing slurry bioremediation treatment. Alkane biodegradation rates were always much greater than the respective desorption rates, indicating that these saturated hydrocarbons apparently do not need to be dissolved into the aqueous phase prior to metabolism by soil microorganisms. The biodegradation of PAHs was generally not mass-transfer rate limited during the initial phase, while it often became so at the end of the treatment period when biodegradation rates equaled abiotic desorption rates. However, in all cases where PAH biodegradation was not observed or PAH removal temporarily stalled, bioavailability limitations were not deemed responsible for this recalcitrance since these PAHs desorbed rapidly from the soil into the aqueous phase. Consequently, aged PAHs that are often thought to be recalcitrant due to bioavailability limitations may not be so and therefore may pose a greater risk to environmental receptors than previously thought.

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