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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 43 No. 2, p. 441-449
    Received: June 19, 2013
    Published: June 23, 2014

    * Corresponding author(s): genevieve.bordeleau@ete.inrs.ca
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Biodegradation of Nitroglycerin from Propellant Residues on Military Training Ranges

  1. Geneviève Bordeleau *a,
  2. Richard Martela,
  3. Mathieu Drouina,
  4. Guy Amplemanb and
  5. Sonia Thiboutotb
  1. a Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Centre Eau, Terre et Environnement (INRS-ETE), 490 de la Couronne, Quebec City, QC, G1K 9A9. Canada
    b Defence Research and Development Canada- Valcartier, 2459 Pie-XI Blvd. North, Quebec City, QC, G3J 1X5, Canada


Nitroglycerin (NG) is often present in soils and sometimes in pore water at antitank firing positions due to incomplete combustion of propellants. Various degradation processes can contribute to the natural attenuation of NG in soils and pore water, thus reducing the risks of groundwater contamination. However, until now these processes have been sparsely documented. This study aimed at evaluating the ability of microorganisms from a legacy firing position to degrade dissolved NG, as well as NG trapped within propellant particles. Results from the shake-flask experiments showed that the isolated culture is capable of degrading dissolved NG but not the nitrocellulose matrix of propellant particles, so that the deeply embedded NG molecules cannot be degraded. Furthermore, the results from column experiments showed that in a nutrient-poor sand, degradation of dissolved NG may not be sufficiently rapid to prevent groundwater contamination. Therefore, the results from this study indicate that, under favorable soil conditions, biodegradation can be an important natural attenuation process for NG dissolving out of fresh propellant residues. In contrast, biodegradation does not contribute to the long-term attenuation of NG within old, weathered propellant residues. Although NG in these old residues no longer poses a threat to groundwater quality, if soil clean-up of a legacy site is required, active remediation approaches should be sought.

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