IMR Press / FBE / Volume 15 / Issue 3 / DOI: 10.31083/j.fbe1503016
Open Access Review
Reviewing the Bioremediation of Contaminants in Groundwater: Investigations over 40 Years Provide Insights into What's Achievable
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1 CSIRO Environment, Private Bag 5, Wembley, WA 6913, Australia
*Correspondence: (Greg B. Davis)
Front. Biosci. (Elite Ed) 2023, 15(3), 16;
Submitted: 23 February 2023 | Revised: 2 May 2023 | Accepted: 22 May 2023 | Published: 6 July 2023
Copyright: © 2023 The Author(s). Published by IMR Press.
This is an open access article under the CC BY 4.0 license.

Biodegradation and biotransformation of contaminants in groundwater commonly occurs naturally. However, natural biodegradation rates can be slow leading to elongated contaminant plumes and prolonged risks that demand greater remedial intervention. Enhancement of the biodegradation of contaminants in groundwater can be induced by the addition of amendments to change the geochemical conditions to those that are more favorable for indigenous or added biota. Enhancing biodegradation requires collocation of the contaminant of concern with the ‘right’ microbial communities under the ‘right’ geochemical conditions, so that the microbiota thrive and bio-transform, degrade or lock up the contaminant of interest. This is most easily achievable at laboratory or bench scale where mixing is easily performed, and mass transfer limitations are minimized. However, inducing such changes at field scale in aquifers is non-trivial - amendments do not easily mix into groundwater because it is a laminar (non-turbulent) and low-energy flow environment. Bioaugmentation of cultured or genetically modified organisms have also been considered to add to groundwater to enhance contaminant degradation rates. Here we provide an overview of research studies over approximately 40 years that highlight the progression of understanding from natural biodegradation of plumes in groundwater to active bioremediation efforts that have been variably successful at field scale. Investigated contaminants providing insights include petroleum hydrocarbons, chlorinated and brominated hydrocarbons, ammonium, metals, munition compounds, atrazine and per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances. The redox and electron acceptor/donor conditions that are inducive to biodegradation for a range of contaminants are highlighted. Biodegradation is challenged by the availability of electron donors/acceptors in the core of plumes and on plume fringes. Cases for bioaugmentation are identified. A long history of investigations provides examples of the importance of amendment delivery mechanisms, scale-up from laboratory to field, and field-scale demonstration of the effectiveness of groundwater bioremediation technologies. Advantages and disadvantages of remedial approaches are tabulated. The value and contributions of integrative modelling advances are identified. The literature review and example cases provide a deep understanding of what scale of bioremediation might be achievable for groundwater plumes. Limitations to bioremediation strategies outlined here will help direct future efforts. Addressing the sources of groundwater plumes as well as bioremediation of the plume itself will achieve more effective outcomes. Twelve ‘lessons learnt’ are synthesized from the review.

chlorinated solvents
per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS)
Fig. 1.
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