Electrical stimulation of microbial PCB degradation in sediment

Chan Lan Chun, Rayford B. Payne, Kevin R. Sowers, Harold D. May

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Bioremediation of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has been precluded in part by the lack of a cost-effective method to stimulate microbial degradation in situ. A common limitation is the lack of an effective method of providing electron donors and acceptors to promote in situ PCB biodegradation. Application of an electric potential to soil/sediment could be an effective means of providing electron-donors/-acceptors to PCB dechlorinating and degrading microorganisms. In this study, electrical stimulation of microbial PCB dechlorination/degradation was examined in sediment maintained under simulated in situ conditions. Voltage was applied to open microcosms filled with PCB-impacted (Aroclor 1242) freshwater sediment from a Superfund site (Fox River, WI). The effect of applied low voltages (1.5-3.0 V) on the microbial transformation of PCBs was determined with: 1) spiked PCBs, and 2) indigenous weathered PCBs. The results indicate that both oxidative and reductive microbial transformation of the spiked PCBs was stimulated but oxidation was dominant and most effective with higher voltage. Chlorobenzoates were produced as oxidation metabolites of the spiked PCBs, but increasing voltage enhanced chlorobenzoate consumption, indicating that overall degradation was enhanced. In the case of weathered PCBs, the total concentration decreased 40-60% in microcosms exposed to electric current while no significant decrease of PCB concentration was observed in control reactors (0 V or sterilized). Single congener analysis of the weathered PCBs showed significant loss of di- to penta-chlorinated congeners, indicating that microbial activity was not limited to anaerobic dechlorination of only higher chlorinated congeners. Degradation was most apparent with the application of only 1.5 V where anodic O2 was not generated, indicating a mechanism of degradation independent of electrolytic O2. Low voltage stimulation of the microbial degradation of weathered PCBs observed in this study suggests that this approach could be a cost-effective, environmentally sustainable strategy to remediate PCBs in situ.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-152
Number of pages12
JournalWater Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work has been supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (Superfund Research Program grant 5R01ES016197-02 ). We thank James Hahnenberg (US EPA) and William Harman (GW Partners) for providing Fox River sediment and Peter Moeller and Kevin Huncik (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) for assisting us with GC–MS analysis of CBAs.


  • Biotransformation
  • Electrical stimulation
  • In situ bioremediation
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls


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