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Comparison of biostimulation versus bioaugmentation with bacterial strain PM1 for treatment of groundwater contaminated with methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).

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Widespread contamination of groundwater by methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) has triggered the exploration of different technologies for in situ removal of the pollutant, including biostimulation of naturally occurring microbial communities or bioaugmentation with specific microbial strains known to biodegrade the oxygenate. After laboratory studies revealed that bacterial strain PM1 rapidly and completely biodegraded MTBE in groundwater sediments, the organism was tested in an in situ field study at Port Hueneme Naval Construction Battalion Center in Oxnard, California. Two pilot test plots (A and B) in groundwater located down-gradient from an MTBE source were intermittently sparged with pure oxygen. Plot B was also inoculated with strain PM1. MTBE concentrations up-gradient from plots A and B initially varied temporally from 1.5 to 6 mg MTBE/L. Six months after treatment began, MTBE concentrations in monitoring wells down-gradient from the injection bed decreased substantially in the shallow zone of the groundwater in plots A and B, thus even in the absence of the inoculated strain PM1. In the deeper zone, downstream MTBE concentrations also decreased in plot A and to a lesser extent in plot B. Difficulties in delivery of oxygen to the deeper zone of plot B, evidenced by low dissolved oxygen concentrations, were likely responsible for low rates of MTBE removal at that location. We measured the survival and movement of strain PM1 in groundwater samples using two methods for detection of DNA sequences specific to strain PM1: TaqMan quantitative polymerase chain reaction, and internal transcribed spacer region analysis. A naturally occurring bacterial strain with > 99% 16S rDNA sequence similarity to strain PM1 was detected in groundwater collected at various locations at Port Hueneme, including outside the plots where the organism was inoculated. Addition of oxygen to naturally occurring microbial populations was sufficient to stimulate MTBE removal at this site. In some cases, however, inoculation with an MTBE-degrading culture may be warranted.

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