• Article

Biological remediation of explosives and related nitroaromatic compounds

Nitroaromatics form an important group of recalcitrant xenobiotics. Only few aromatic compounds, bearing one nitro group as a substituent of the aromatic ring, are produced as secondary metabolites by microorganisms. The majority of nitroaromatic compounds in the biosphere are industrial chemicals such as explosives, dyes, polyurethane foams, herbicides, insecticides and solvents. These compounds are generally recalcitrant to biological treatment and remain in the biosphere, where they constitute a source of pollution due to both toxic and mutagenic effects on humans, fish, algae and microorganisms. However, relatively few microorganisms have been described as being able to use nitroaromatic compounds as nitrogen and/or carbon and energy source. The best-known nitroaromatic compound is the explosive TNT (2,4,6-trinitrotoluene). This article reviews the bioremediation strategies for TNT-contaminated soil and water. It comes to the following conclusion: The optimal remediation strategy for nitroaromatic compounds depends on many site-specific factors. Composting and the use of reactor systems tend themselves to treating soils contaminated with high levels of explosives (e.g. at former ammunition production facilities, where areas with a high contamination level are common). Compared to composting systems, bioreactors have the major advantage of a short treatment time, but the disadvantage of being more tabour intensive and more expensive. Studies indicate that biological treatment systems, which are based on the activity of the fungus Phanerochaete chrysosporium or on Pseudomonas sp. ST53, might be used as effective methods for the remediation of highly contaminated soil and water. Phytoremediation, although not widely used now, has the potential to become an important strategy for the remediation of soil and water contaminated with explosives. It is best suited where contaminant levels are low (e.g. at military sites where pollution is rather diffuse) and where larger contaminated surfaces or volumes have to be treated. In addition, phytoremediation can be used as a polishing method after other remediation treatments, such as composting or bioslurry, have taken place. This in-situ treatment method has the advantage of lower treatment costs, but has the disadvantage of a considerable longer treatment time. In order to improve the cost-efficiency, phytoremediation of nitroaromatics (and other organic xenobiotics) could be combined with bio-energy production. This requires, however, detailed knowledge on the fate of the contaminants in the plants as well as the development of efficient treatment methods for the contaminated biomass that minimise the spreading of the contaminants into the environment during post harvest treatment


Snellinx, Z., Nepovim, A., Taghavi, S., Vangronsveld, J., Vanek, T., & van der Lelie, D. (2002). Biological remediation of explosives and related nitroaromatic compounds. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 9(1), 48-61.