Phytoremediation of aged petroleum sludge: effect of irrigation techniques and scheduling.
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The use of higher plants to accelerate the remediation of petroleum contaminants in soil is limited by, among other factors, rooting depth and the delivery of nutrients to the microsites at which remediation occurs. The objective of this study was to test methods of enhancing root growth and remediation in the subsurface of a contaminated petroleum sludge. The phytoremediation of highly contaminated petroleum sludge (total petroleum hydrocarbons >35 g kg(-1) was tested in the greenhouse as a function of the frequency and the depth of irrigation and fertilization. Water and dissolved plant nutrients were added to the soil surface or at a depth of 30 cm, either daily or weekly. Equivalent quantities of water and nutrients were added in all cases. Daily irrigation at a depth of 30 cm invoked greater root growth and enhanced contaminant degradation relative to all other treatments. In the absence of plants, residual concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons after 7 mo were higher than with plants. The presence of plant roots clearly improved the physical structure of the soil and increased microbial populations. Thus, the plant roots in conjunction with daily additions of soluble N and P appeared to enhance oxygen transport to greater depths in the soil, stimulate petroleum-degrading microorganisms, and provide microbial access to soil micropores. Subsurface irrigation with frequent, small amounts of water and nutrients could significantly accelerate phytoremediation of field soils contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons.