Toluene and m-xylene were rapidly mineralized in an anaerobic laboratory aquifer column operated under continuous-flow conditions with nitrate as an electron acceptor. The oxidation of toluene and m-xylene was coupled with the reduction of nitrate, and mineralization was confirmed by trapping 14CO2 evolved from 14C-ring-labeled substrates. Substrate degradation also took place when nitrous oxide replaced nitrate as an electron acceptor, but decomposition was inhibited in the presence of molecular oxygen or after the substitution of nitrate by nitrite. The m-xylene-adapted microorganisms in the aquifer column degraded toluene, benzaldehyde, benzoate, m-toluylaldehyde, m-toluate, m-cresol, p-cresol, and p-hydroxybenzoate but were unable to metabolize benzene, naphthalene, methylcyclohexane, and 1,3-dimethylcyclohexane. Isotope-dilution experiments suggested benzoate as an intermediate formed during anaerobic toluene metabolism. The finding that the highly water-soluble nitrous oxide served as electron acceptor for the anaerobic mineralization of some aromatic hydrocarbons may offer attractive options for the in situ restoration of polluted aquifers.
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