Isotopic evidence and quantification assessment of in situ RDX biodegradation in the deep unsaturated zone

S. Sagi-Ben Moshe, Z. Ronen, O. Dahan, A. Bernstein, N. Weisbrod, F. Gelman, E. Adar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX) is an explosive compound whose extensive use has resulted in significant contamination of soils and groundwater worldwide. We studied its in situ biodegradation along the unsaturated zone beneath an explosives wastewater lagoon using compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA) of RDX in the unsaturated zone, together with biodegradation slurry experiments under anaerobic conditions. We found the highest degradation potential of RDX and its nitroso derivatives in the upper part of the soil profile while in the lower parts, RDX-degradation potential was lower and the nitroso derivatives tended to persist. This was also observed in the field, as reflected by the isotopic composition of RDX along the profile. We also found a correlation between biodegradation potential and clay content: biodegradation was further enhanced in layers characterized by high-clay content or in those influenced by the high-clay layers. In addition, in the presence of high organic matter content, further enhancement of biodegradation was observed. We obtained different isotopic enrichment factors (e{open}) for RDX biodegradation in different sections of the unsaturated profile and suggest that different degradation pathways exist simultaneously in situ, in variable proportions. Using the range of enrichment factors, we were able to assess the biodegradation extent of RDX at different sampling points along the profile, which ranged between 30 and 99.4%. The novel application of CSIA together with slurry experiments provides better insight into degradation processes that are otherwise difficult to detect and assess.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1253-1262
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2010


  • Biodegradation
  • Compound-specific isotope analysis
  • Contamination
  • RDX
  • Unsaturated zone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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