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Water Science & Technology—WST Vol 61 No 10 pp 2531–2538 © IWA Publishing 2010 doi:10.2166/wst.2010.171

Attenuation of TNT in seawater microcosms

I. Harrison and C. H. Vane

British Geological Survey, Kingsley Dunham Centre, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG, UK E-mail: chv@bgs.ac.uk


The ability of two differing marine sediments (one clayey, the other sandy) to attenuate the explosive 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT), dissolved in intertidal seawater from the eastern English coast of the North Sea, was examined using aerobic microcosms. Analysis of the seawater from the microcosms revealed an initial sharp decline in TNT concentration with clayey sediment in both sterilized (to prevent microbial activity) and unsterilized microcosms. This effect did not occur to such a marked extent in similar sterile and non-sterile sandy sediment microcosms and was attributed mainly to sorption of TNT to the fine clay particles of the clayey sediment. As time progressed, the attenuation of TNT in microcosms containing either type of sediment was found to be less in those that had been sterilized compared with those where microbial action proceeded unhindered. Feeding the microcosms, (i.e. supplying extra carbon sources for the microbial communities), appeared to have a small, but perceptible, enhancing effect upon TNT dissipation. The attenuation of TNT was also measured in large microcosms containing 2.5 L of seawater and no sediment. Analysis of the seawater revealed a gradual decline in TNT concentration in non-sterile and fed microcosms compared to their sterile counterpart. Overall, this laboratory study showed that the attenuation of TNT is slow (half-life in seawater ca.1900 days; half-life sand sediment <700 days; half life in clay sediment 130 days) under conditions commonly encountered in coastal waters of the North Sea.

Keywords: abiotic; aerobic; explosives; microbially-mediated degradation; microcosms; sorption; 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene

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