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Biodegradation of sorbed chemicals in soil.


Rates of biodegradation of sorbed chemicals are usually lower in soil than in aqueous systems, in part because sorption reduces the availability of the chemical to microorganisms. Biodegradation, sorption, and diffusion occur simultaneously and are tightly coupled. In soil, the rate of biodegradation is a function of a chemical's diffusion coefficient, sorption partition coefficient, the distance it must diffuse from the site of sorption to microbial populations that can degrade it, and its biodegradation rate constant. A model (DSB model) was developed that describes biodegradation of chemicals limited in the availability by sorption and diffusion. Different kinetics expressions describe biodegradation depending on whether the reaction is controlled by mass transfer (diffusion and sorption) or the intrinsic biodegradation rate, and whether biodegradation begins during or after the majority of sorption has occurred. We tested the hypothesis that there is a direct relationship between how strongly a chemical is sorbed and the chemical's biodegradation rate. In six soils with different organic carbon contents, there was no relationship between the extent or rate of biodegradation and the sorption partition coefficient for phenanthrene. Aging of phenanthrene residues in soil led to a substantial reduction in the rate of biodegradation compared to biodegradation rates of recently added phenanthrene. Considerable research has focused on identification and development of techniques for enhancing in situ biodegradation of sorbed chemicals. Development of such techniques, especially those involving inoculation with microbial strains, should consider physical mass transfer limitations and potential decreases in bioavailability over time.

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