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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1997 September; 63(9): 3589–3593.
PMCID: PMC168665

Anaerobic degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and alkanes in petroleum-contaminated marine harbor sediments.


Although polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have usually been found to persist under strict anaerobic conditions, in a previous study an unusual site was found in San Diego Bay in which two PAHs, naphthalene and phenanthrene, were oxidized to carbon dioxide under sulfate-reducing conditions. Further investigations with these sediments revealed that methylnaphthalene, fluorene, and fluoranthene were also anaerobically oxidized to carbon dioxide in these sediments, while pyrene and benzo[a]pyrene were not. Studies with naphthalene indicated that PAH oxidation was sulfate dependent. Incubating the sediments with additional naphthalene for 1 month resulted in a significant increase in the oxidation of [14C]naphthalene. In sediments from a less heavily contaminated site in San diego Bay where PAHs were not readily degraded, naphthalene degradation could be stimulated through inoculation with active PAH-degrading sediments from the most heavily contaminated site. Sediments from the less heavily contaminated site that had been adapted for rapid anaerobic degradation of high concentrations of benzene did not oxidize naphthalene, suggesting that the benzene- and naphthalene-degrading populations were different. When fuels containing complex mixtures of alkanes were added to sediments from the two sites, there was significant degradation in the alkanes. [14C]hexadecane was also anaerobically oxidized to 14CO2 in these sediments. Molybdate, a specific inhibitor of sulfate reduction, inhibited hexadecane oxidation. These results demonstrate that a wide variety of hydrocarbon contaminants can be degraded under sulfate-reducing conditions in hydrocarbon-contaminated sediments, and they suggest that it may be possible to use sulfate reduction rather than aerobic respiration as a treatment strategy for hydrocarbon-contaminated dredged sediments.

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Selected References

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