|The environmental fate of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) is a significant issue, raising interest in bioremediation. However, the physio-chemical characteristics of PAHs and the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soils can drastically influence in the degradation. Moreover, PAHs are toxic and carcinogenic for humans and their rapid degradation is of great importance. The process of degradation of pollutants can be enhanced by manipulating abiotic factors.
The effect of soil pH on degradation of PAHs with a view to manipulating soil pH to enhance the bioremediation of PAH’s was studied. The degradation rate of key model PAHs (Phenanthrene, Anthracene, Fluoranthene, and Pyrene) was monitored in J Arthur Brower’s topsoil modified to a range of pH between pH 4.0 and pH 9.0 at half pH intervals. Photo-catalytic oxidation of PAHs in the presence of a catalyst (TiO2) under UV light at two different wavelengths was studied. The degradation of PAHs during photo-catalytic oxidation was carried out at varying soil pH, whilst the degradation rate of each individual PAH was monitored using HPLC. It was observed that pH 6.5 was most suitable for the photo-degradation of all the PAHs, whilst in general acidic soil had greater photo-degradation rates than alkaline soil pH. Photo-degradation of PAHs at 375 nm exhibited greater degradation rates compared to 254 nm. Phenanthrene at both the wavelengths had greater degradation rate and pyrene has lower degradation rate of the four PAHs.
Pure microbial cultures were isolated from road-side soil by shaken enrichment culture and characterized for their ability to grow on PAHs. Bacterial PAH degraders, isolated via enrichment were identified biochemically and by molecular techniques using PCR amplification and sequencing of 16S rDNA. Sequences were analyzed using BLAST (NCBI) and their percentage identity to known bacterial rDNA sequences in the GeneBank database (NCBI) was compared. The 6 bacterial strains were identified as Pseudomonas putida, Achromobacter xylosoxidans, Microbacterium sp., Alpha proteobacterium, Brevundimonas sp., Bradyrhizobium sp. Similarly, fungal PAH degraders were identified microscopically and with molecular techniques using PCR amplification and sequencing of 18S rDNA and identified as Aspergillus niger and Penicillium freii.
Biodegradation of four PAHs with two and four aromatic rings were studied in soil with inoculation of the six identified bacteria and two identified fungi over a range of pH. It was observed that pH 7.5 was most suitable for the degradation of all the PAHs maintained in the dark. A degradation of 50% was observed in soil pH 7.5 within first three days which was a seventh of the time taken at pH 5.0 and pH 6.5 (21 days). Greater fungal populations were found at acidic soil pH and alkaline soil pH, in comparison with neutral pH 7.0. Pencillium sp. was found to be more prevalent at acidic pH whilst Aspergillus sp. was found to be more prevalent at pH 7.5-8.0. Bacterial populations were greater at pH 7.5 which was highly correlated with soil ATP levels. It was therefore evident that the greatest rates of degradation were associated with the greatest bacterial population. Soil enzyme activities in general were also greatest at pH 7.5.
The converse effect of pH was found with fastest rate of photo-catalytic degradation at the optimal conditions were observed at acidic condition in soil pH 6.5 whilst, the results obtained during biodegradation at the optimal conditions exhibits fastest rate of degradation at alkaline conditions particularly at pH 7.5. Thus, manipulation of soil pH to 7.5 has significant potential to dramatically increase the degradation rate of PAHs.