Mediterranean coastal regions are particularly exposed to oil pollution due to extensive industrialization, urbanization and transport of crude and refined oil to and from refineries. Bioremediation of contaminated beach sand through landfarming is both simple and cost-effective to implement compared to other treatment technologies. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect of alternative nutrients on biodegradation of crude oil contaminated beach sand in an effort to reduce the time required for bioremediation employing only indigenous hydrocarbon degraders.
A natural sandy soil was collected from Agios Onoufrios beach (Chania, Greece) and was contaminated with weathered crude oil. The indigenous microbial population in the contaminated sand was tested alone (control treatment) or in combination with inorganic nutrients (KNO3 and K2HPO4) to investigate their effects on oil biodegradation rates. In addition, the ability of biosurfactants (rhamnolipids), in the presence of organic nutrients (uric acid and lecithin), to further stimulate biodegradation was investigated in laboratory microcosms over a 45-day period.
Biodegradation was tracked by GC/MS analysis of aliphatic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons components and the measured concentrations were corrected for abiotic removal by hopane normalizations. It was found that the saturated fraction of the residual oil is degraded more extensively than the aromatic fraction and the bacterial growth after an incubation period of approximately 3 weeks was much greater from the bacterial growth in the control.
The results show that the treatments with inorganic or organic nutrients are equally effective over almost 30 days where C12–C35n-alkanes were degraded more than 97% and polyaromatic hydrocarbons with two or three rings were degraded more than 95% within 45 days. The results clearly show that the addition of nutrients to contaminated beach sand significantly enhanced the activity of indigenous microorganisms, as well as the removal of total recoverable petroleum hydrocarbons (TRPH) over a 45-day study period.