Quantifying RDX biodegradation in groundwater using δ15N isotope analysis

Anat Bernstein, Eilon Adar, Zeev Ronen, Harald Lowag, Willibald Stichler, Rainer U. Meckenstock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Isotope analysis was used to examine the extent of hexahydro-1,3,5-trinitro-1,3,5-triazine (RDX) biodegradation in groundwater along a ca. 1.35-km contamination plume. Biodegradation was proposed as a natural attenuating remediation method for the contaminated aquifer. By isotope analysis of RDX, the extent of biodegradation was found to reach up to 99.5% of the initial mass at a distance of 1.15-1.35 km down gradient from the contamination sources. A range of first-order biodegradation rates was calculated based on the degradation extents, with average half-life values ranging between 4.4 and 12.8 years for RDX biodegradation in the upper 15 m of the aquifer, assuming purely aerobic biodegradation, and between 10.9 and 31.2 years, assuming purely anaerobic biodegradation. Based on the geochemical data, an aerobic biodegradation pathway was suggested as the dominant attenuation process at the site. The calculated biodegradation rate was correlated with depth, showing decreasing degradation rates in deeper groundwater layers. Exceptionally low first-order kinetic constants were found in a borehole penetrating the bottom of the aquifer, with half life ranging between 85.0 to 161.5 years, assuming purely aerobic biodegradation, and between 207.5 and 394.3 years, assuming purely anaerobic biodegradation. The study showed that stable isotope fractionation analysis is a suitable tool to detect biodegradation of RDX in the environment. Our findings clearly indicated that RDX is naturally biodegraded in the contaminated aquifer. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first reported use of RDX isotope analysis to quantify its biodegradation in contaminated aquifers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-35
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - 15 Jan 2010


  • Biodegradation
  • Groundwater
  • Isotope
  • RDX

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology


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