The dissolution and microbial degradation of mobile aromatic hydrocarbons from a Pintsch gas tar DNAPL source zone

J.A. Van Leeuwen*, N. Hartog, J. Gerritse, C. Gallacher, R. Helmus, O. Brock, J.R. Parsons, S.M. Hassanizadeh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Source zones containing tar, a dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL), can contaminate groundwater for centuries. A common occurrence of tar is at former Pintsch gas factories. Little is known about the composition and fate of contaminants dissolving from Pintsch gas tar DNAPL. In this study, we determined the composition and water-soluble characteristics of mobile aromatic hydrocarbons and their biodegradation metabolites in the DNAPL contaminated groundwater at a former Pintsch gas tar plant. We assessed the factors that determine the fate of observed groundwater contaminants. Measured values of density (1.03–1.06 kg/m3) and viscosity (18.6–39.4 cP) were found to be relatively low compared to common coal tars. Analysis showed that unlike common coal tars phenanthrene is the primary component rather than naphthalene. Moreover, it was found that Pintsch gas tar contains a relatively high amount of light molecular aromatic hydrocarbon compounds, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (BTEX). Less commonly reported components, such as styrene, ethyltoluenes, di-ethylbenzene, 1,2,4,5-tetramethylbenzene, were also detected in water extracts from Pintsch gas tar. Moreover, 46 relatively hydrophilic metabolites were found within the tar samples. Metabolites present within the tar suggest biodegradation of mobile aromatic Pintsch gas tar compounds occurred near the DNAPL. Based on eleven detected suspect metabolites, a novel anaerobic biodegradation pathway is proposed for indene. Overall, our findings indicate that Pintsch gas tar has higher invasive and higher flux properties than most coal tars due to its relatively low density, low viscosity and, high content of water-soluble compounds. The partitioning of contaminants from multi-component DNAPL into the aqueous phase and re-dissolution of their slightly less hydrophobic metabolites back from the aqueous phase into the DNAPL is feasible and demonstrates the complexity of assessing degradation processes within a source zone.

Original languageEnglish
Article number137797
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date8 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2020


  • anaerobic degradation indene
  • metabolite profiling
  • partitioning
  • pintsch gas tar
  • tar composition


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