Effects of hydrocarbon enrichment on trichloroethylene biodegradation and microbial populations in finished compost


Mary E. Watwood, Department of Biological Sciences, Campus Box 8007, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83209, USA (e-mail: watwmari@isu.edu).


This study focused on the capacity of finished compost, often used as packing material in biofiltration units, to support microbial biodegradation of trichloroethylene (TCE). Finished compost was enriched with methane or propane (10% head space) to stimulate cometabolic biodegradation of gaseous TCE. Successful hydrocarbon enrichment, as indicated by rapid depletion of hydrocarbon gas and measurable growth of hydrocarbon-utilizing micro-organisms, occurred within a week. Within batch reactor flasks, approximately 75% of head space TCE (1–40 ppmv) was rapidly sorbed onto compost material. Up to 99% of the remaining head space TCE was removed via biodegradation in compost enriched with either hydrocarbon. Hydrocarbon enrichment with methane or propane corresponded to 10-fold increases in methanotrophic or propanotrophic populations, respectively. Based on growth assessment under different nutritional regimes, there appeared to be complex metabolic interactions within the microbial community in enriched compost. Five separate bacterial cultures were derived from the hydrocarbon-enriched compost and assayed for the ability to degrade TCE.