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PCB Removal Technologies

Executive Summary

Polychlorinated biphenyls are a family of 209 compounds. They have been used as complex mixtures known as Aroclors for hundreds of industrial and commercial purposes, and a significant amount of them has been released to the environment.

The purpose of this review is to describe the major PCB contaminated groundwater treatment processes and evaluate the potential effectiveness of micro-organisms for biological treatment under anaerobic and aerobic conditions, technologies that have been extensively investigated in recent years. Chemical processes, such as advanced oxidation processes, photocatalysis, degradation, reductive dehalogenation in the presence of metals, supercritical water oxidation and hybrid methods, as well as physical processes like sorption on activated carbon and ultrafiltration gave very good results and high PCB removal, but they do not appear cost-effective. Biotechnological processes employing specialized micro-organisms have shown to be an effective alternative for cleaning up PCBs contaminated waters and soils, especially with combined aerobic-anaerobic processes.


Due to their thermal and chemical stability, flame resistance, and dielectric properties, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been used in several industrial applications, such as hydraulic fluids, rubber plasticizers, adhesives, and electrical capacitors (3, 233). In the 1970–1980s, their persistence in the environment, toxicity and accumulation in the food chain had been demonstrated. However, about 2.1x108 kg of PCBs, one-third of the total quantity produced, has been released into water, sediments and soil (106, 135, 146, 157). These compounds are now considered among the most hazardous pollutants in the world (3, 248). Natural and industrial waters represent a particularly troublesome environmental problem, due to their large volume and low content of PCBs. Technological solutions for removal of these contaminants from the environment are still under study. A review of the literature concerning possible treatment processes for PCBs in groundwater and sludges with emphasis on biological treatment follows.

Physical Treatment


Activated Carbon (AC)

The most widely practiced treatment method for PCBs in aqueous wastes is activated carbon adsorption. It is suitable insofar as PCBs are very apolar pollutants (272). A study showed that in the presence of influent particulates, PCB removal was significantly better (99%) in a biological AC column compared to the 62% obtained in an otherwise identical granulated AC (GAC) column (119).

Other Adsorbents

Bentonite showed good results for the sorption of PCBs (156). The bentonite may function as a recyclable surfactant support for the adsorption and subsequent combustion of organic pollutants (334). Hydroxy-intercalated and several pillared bentonite showed high sorption capacity, although they seem to be less efficient than GAC (197).

A chemical activation of elutrilithe was developed, and showed a superior affinity and capacity compared to the classical existing sorbents (294).

Fly ash is found to be effective for the removal of PCBs from an aqueous solution. It could be an alternate adsorbent to commercially available carbon due to its low cost and good efficiency (222).


Our own results confirmed high efficient removal of PCBs by both UF and RO membranes. Even with rough UF and MF membranes it seems to be possible to consistently achieve > 99.5% removal (241a).

Electrolytic Reduction

Electrochemical reduction has been applied to the dechlorination of PCBs using direct (99, 150, 200, 229, 274) or mediated (70, 71, 151) electrolysis. All PCBs can be dehalogenated via anaerobic electrolysis (274). Rapid and complete dechlorination of PCBs was possible with biphenyl or naphthalene as mediator in tetra-n-butylammonium perchlorate / dimethylformamide solution (196). Commercial mixtures of PCBs (Aroclors) were dechlorinated to biphenyl by ultrasonically-assisted electro-reduction with and without soluble catalysts. Thus, it was shown that ultrasound increased the rate of electrolysis (284). The destruction principles, reaction mechanism and impact factors of electrochemical methods as well as advances of the research on these methods are reviewed by Yang (327).

Acoustic Cavitation

Sonochemical transformation and dechlorination of PCBs and other chlorinated chemicals in water were investigated (61). The sonolytic destruction of aqueous PCBs (2-, 4-, and 2,4,5-PCB) was reported by Zhang. He investigated kinetics and transformation pathways at multiple frequencies. Chlorine recovery as chloride ion was between 70 and 80% (340).


Gamma Radiation

Gamma radiation did not affect degradation of a PCB in solution or on activated carbon (259). However, another investigation examined the gamma radiation induced degradation of PCBs (di-, tetra-, and deca-chlorobiphenyl congeners) in aqueous surfactant solutions. All PCB congeners were fully dechlorinated by ionizing radiation in micellar systems (256).

UV Radiation

The photodegradation of 22 individual PCB by irradiation with ultraviolet light in n-hexane solution, and their photodechlorination time were studied by Chang (64). Yao elucidated the complete photodechlorination pathways of 3,3',4,4'-TetraCB in alkaline 2-propanol (328, 329). He also investigated the photochemical behaviours of six non-ortho substituted PCB congeners in the same solvent (330). UV-radiation without catalyst applied to highly contaminated extraction waters for 240 hours showed good results (158). Photolysis of five PCB congeners was carried out in methanol, ethanol, and 2-propanol. The addition of sodium hydroxide increased the rate of photolysis. 100% removal of PCBs in the mixture could be obtained in 90 minutes under optimized conditions (314).

Microwave and High Intensity Ultrasound

Under US or MW irradiation, rapid degradation of PCBs in polluted waters was achieved at neutral pH in the presence of a moderate excess of Fenton's reagent. US and MW processes may therefore increase the efficiency and speed of degradation by Fenton’s reagent (73).

Supercritical Water Oxidation

The SCWO process has a wide range of applications (208, 257), is environmentally sound and economically competitive (128, 48). Several detailed reviews of the SCWO process and the reaction pathways can be found (126, 127, 209, 254, 255, 257, 282, 283, 307). Modell first reported a destruction efficiency of over 99.99% for a transformer fluid containing PCBs (209). Then Oe (214) reportedly achieved near-complete decomposition of PCBs. Both used a bench scale unit. Hatakeda (138, 139) reported SCWO of the liquid 3-CB congener and a PCB mixture. In a study comparing efficiencies of H2O2 and O2 as oxidants for the destruction of 3-chlorobiphenyl, over 99% of PCBs were decomposed (139). A similar study using H2O2 claimed more than 99.9% PCB decomposition (138). The kinetic oxidation of Aroclor 1248 appeared to be independent of the oxygen concentration (17). However, a better degradation of monochlorobiphenyl in the presence of methanol was observed with oxygen present (19). Dechlorination of a nonachloro biphenyl congener with ZVI in water under high temperature and pressure was investigated and achieved almost 70% of PCB degradation after two hours (87). Recently, high degrees of decomposition of chlorinated hydrocarbons by SCWO using sodium nitrate and nitrite salts as oxidants has been achieved (> 99.95%) in batch and flow reactor systems (178). Lastly, the development of a new practical reactor for handling high concentration PCB streams that can include dioxins is reported by Kawasaki. Trichlorobiphenyl could be decomposed with a reported efficiency of over 99.9998% in the effluent (160).

Chemical Treatment

Reduction with Metals

Microscale ZVI filings effectively dechlorinate many halogenated hydrocarbon compounds (96, 123, 194, 297). Unfortunately, it only dechlorinates Aroclor mixtures at elevated temperatures (67, 321, 322), but not at ambient conditions (301, 308). Palladisation of the ZVI enables it to rapidly dechlorinate PCBs in sediments and water (308, 131), but this dramatically increases the cost of the process. Nanoscale ZVI and nanoscale bimetallic Pd/Fe0 and Ni/ Fe0 have been investigated as remedial agents for chlorinated organic compounds (235, 258, 341, 301). Lowry demonstrates that nanoscale ZVI dechlorinates PCBs to less-chlorinated products under ambient conditions, and that is much more sustainable than palladised microscale ZVI (180). It has been shown that ZVI efficacy is greatest at neutral to acidic pH and a high specific surface area of iron (44). Several studies showed very fast and efficient, complete dechlorination of the PCBs present in Aroclor 1221, 1254 and 1260 by a Pd/Fe bimetallic system, often at ambient conditions (91, 131, 159, 163, 301). However, Pd/Zn showed higher dechlorination activity than Pd/Fe (163), and the preparation of Pd/Mg was found to be much simpler and faster (91). Quantitative and rapid dechlorinations of Aroclor 1221 and 1260 have been demonstrated using the Pd/Mg bimetallic (91, 93, 133). A two-stage dechlorination reaction was trialled: Pd/Fe reduced the higher chlorinated congeners; then Pd/Mg rapidly converted the remaining PCB to biphenyl (94). Moreover, reductive dechlorination of polychlorinated aromatic compounds, including coplanar PCBs, by metallic calcium under mild conditions was successful in 24 hours (206, 207).

Fenton’s Reagent

Hydroxyl radicals (OH'), generated with Fenton's reagent, (H2O2 + Fe(II)) rapidly oxidized PCBs in aqueous solutions (253, 274). Aqueous-phase oxidation by OH' may be an important PCB removal mechanism in surface waters under certain conditions (77).

Combination of Physical and Chemical Processes

UV/ H2O2 or Ozone

Several studies have claimed that H2O2 was able to significantly improve the initial reaction rates of photocatalysis of a variety of organic compounds (129, 201, 230, 277-279). Since the late 1960s, many studies have indicated that the UV/ H2O2 process is able to oxidize a wide variety of organic pollutants in aqueous solutions (187, 273). Vollmuth showed that it was more efficient to destroy PCBs by UV/ozone treatment than UV or ozone alone (>90% of removal) (299). pH was also shown to have no influence on the UV/ozone treatment of seepage water. Laboratory and pilot plant scale conditions for UV oxidation of PCBs in the presence of H2O2 were studied by Kastanek (157) and showed good results.

TiO2 /Photocatalysis

TiO2 photocatalytic degradation has been demonstrated to be able to effectively degrade various organic contaminants (205, 231). Hong showed that 2-Chlorobiphenyl, can be completely mineralized in irradiated TiO2 aqueous suspensions (143). He also studied the role of O2 in this reaction (304) The catalytic decomposition of PCBs promoted by sunlight in an aqueous solution is reported by Zhang (338). Almost 80% of the total PCBs were destroyed after 4 hours of irradiation. A similar study has been investigated with a 2-chlorobiphenyl and Aroclor mixture (1221, 1016, 1248, 1254, and 1260) and water from the PCB contaminated St. Lawrence river (144). Degradation rates were found to be proportional to the concentration of TiO2, and higher in acidic media. The most highly chlorinated PCBs tended to decompose last (144, 338). Ollis (226) concluded that photocatalysis was economically comparable to activated carbon systems and much cheaper than UV-ozone oxidation systems. UV / TiO2 / Oxidant Negative effects on TiO2 photocatalysis at high H2O2 concentration and total inhibition at any H2O2 concentration have been reported (187, 278, 279). The rate-enhancing effect of inorganic oxidants in the UV / TiO2 / oxidant system was confirmed by many investigators (129, 190, 230). Grätzel (129) and Pelizzetti (230) reported that H2O2, IO4- and S2O82- had significant rate-enhancing effects on TiO2 photocatalysis of organic compounds. Wang studied the effect of different concentrations of these oxidants on photocatalysis of 2-Chlorobiphenyl in aqueous TiO2 suspensions (303). It was found that PCBs were degraded effectively by the use of a suspension of TiO2 particles in a solution of ferric chloride, H2O2 and alcohols under irradiation at 253.7 nm (195).

Fenton / UV

A photo-assisted Fenton-type reaction degraded Aroclor 1242 in acidified water at 66°C and up to 85% PCB removal and dechlorination were readily obtained (234). The reaction of three PCB congeners in a photo-Fenton system at pH 3 was followed by David. He showed that sorption on particulate matter resulted in slower transformation rates (79). Research into the oxidation of 4-CBP and 4,4'-CBP in aqueous solution seems to show that the photo-Fenton process is superior to either a simple Fenton or UV / TiO2 process (171). Kastanek studied the possibility of decomposition of PCBs using a Fenton reaction enhanced by UV radiation in combination with an adsorption step. He achieved a relatively high destruction of PCB in the UV/Ox system with real wastewater (157, 158). Recently, he demonstrated a 99% removal of PCBs by active radicals in 45 h(159). SWO/ H2O2 The dechlorination of a tetrachlorobiphenyl congener in supercritical water and methanol using H2O2 as the oxidant suggests the possibility of treating Aroclor 1248 in the same way (18).

Ultrasound Waves, Electrochemistry and Fenton’s Reagent

A new method for removal of hydrophilic chloro-organic pollutants in effluent water was developed, using a sono-electrochemical process treatment. The efficiency of this process is tentatively much higher than the reference degradation methods, and the time required for full degradation is considerably shorter (323).

GAC and UV / Ox

Kastenek concludes that due to disproportionate times of reaction, the use of catalyst and/or combination of UV/Ox and AC filtration is impractical (157, 158). A full procedure including both adsorption on activated bentonite and on GAC was however studied at laboratory and pilot plant scale and achieved considerable reduction of PCB concentration.

GAC and Ultrafiltration

Performance trials carried out at groundwater treatment plants seem to indicate that ultrafiltration followed by GAC filtration would give the highest level of PCB removal (241b).

Biological Treatment

Ex-Situ Treatment

Aerobic Oxidative Degradation

In general, PCBs with at most three chlorines are broken down by the catabolic “biphenyl pathway” (212). In most cases the degradability decreased as the number of chlorines increased (212). Two organisms, Burkholderia cepacia LB400 and Ralstonia eutropha H850 are among the best naturally occurring PCB-degrading organisms that have been discovered, with an exceptional range of PCBs degraded (211, 216, 283). Introducing additional genes into strain H850 made it capable of utilising Aroclor 1221 and 1242 as its sole carbon and energy sources for growth (310). Rein investigated the potential of strain LB400 and the genetically modified P. fluorescens strains F113pcb and F113L::1180 to metabolise PCBs (242). Ralstonia sp. SA-5 and Pseudomonas sp. SA-6 recently showed a high degradation capacity for Aroclor 1242 in the presence of biphenyl, and are among the most versatile PCB-metabolizing organisms yet reported (10). A marine bacterium, Pseudomonas sp. CH07 was capable of degrading a variety of highly chlorinated congeners of PCBs (80). Kim has isolated bacterial strains capable of aerobic growth on ortho-substituted dichlorobiphenyls (162). Some studies confirmed that chlorobenzoate (CBA) inhibits growth and PCB biodegradation potentials of several PCB-degrading bacteria, including strain LB400 (11, 191). Laboratory scale aerobic biofilm bioreactors were recently set up and tested for the continuous treatment of low-chlorinated PCB contaminated water (124), and proved to be promising. Pilot experiments were performed in a two step process, using a mixture of indigenous soil bacteria, in a ground water decontamination unit (155). Aerobic biodegradation of PCBs in groundwater by selected bacterial co-cultures was tested by Kastanek in pilot-plant scale experiments, in a slurry of bentonite with adsorbed PCBs (157). At a wide range of PCB concentrations, the degree of direct aerobic degradation of Arochlor 1221, 1242, 1248, 1254, 1260 varied from 60–100%, 50–95%, 40–60%, 30–50%, and 0-30%, respectively (32, 57, 166, 167).

Anaerobic Reductive Dechlorination

Anaerobic reductive dechlorination can attack a large array of highly chlorinated PCBs (137). It decreases their toxicity (32, 56, 239) and increases their degradability (309). It converts them into less-chlorinated congeners (36, 214, 237, 239, 240),more amenable to aerobic degradation (26, 27, 69, 117, 275). This occurs under both methanogenic (331) and sulphate-reducing conditions (14, 342). The rate and extent of dechlorination tends to decrease with increasing degree of chlorination (244). In the past few years, two anaerobic PCB-dechlorinating microorganisms, strains DF-1 (199, 204, 319) and o-17 (75, 177) have been shown to have growth linked to the reductive dechlorination of PCBs (74, 203, 236, 305). High rates of dechlorination of some congeners of PCB were found with strain SF1 (97) and in a pure culture of Dehalococcoides ethenogenes strain 195 (109). Mixed bacterial cultures and individual strains are able to efficiently dechlorinate Arochlor 1260 in a liquid medium, in the presence of easily accessible organic carbon and H2 (2, 39). Brown (53, 54, 55) and Quensen (237) confirmed microbial PCB dechlorination in the laboratory using anaerobic sediment slurries from the Hudson River. Since then, anaerobic dechlorination of PCBs has been reported from many other laboratories (32-34, 42, 165, 225, 270, 271, 313, 315-317, 331, 332). Evidence suggests that they may be completely dechlorinated to biphenyl (219, 243, 312). Natarajan (219) reported that a methanogenic consortium developed in a granular form exhibited complete dechlorination of 23456-CB to biphenyl. Several studies demonstrated efficient and sustainable PCB dechlorination activity without the addition of sediment (39, 40, 74, 137, 318). A study showed that supplementation with adequate amounts of cobalt promotes the reductive meta-dechlorination of PCBs (172). The main factors influencing PCB dechlorination (temperature, pH, H2, carbon sources, electron acceptor) are detailed by Wiegel (309).

Combination Anaerobic–Aerobic Transformation

It has been suggested that a combination of anaerobic dehalogenation and aerobic degradation of PCBs might provide an effective degradation process (2, 95, 285) it is claimed that this can provide nearly complete mineralization of PCBs (291). Fish and Principe (114) demonstrated that Aroclor 1242 was biologically transformed by both aerobic degradation and anaerobic dechlorination in test tube microcosms. Maltseva studied the aerobic degradation of eight PCB congeners which were predominantly anaerobic dechlorination products from Aroclor 1242 (188). Tartakovsky studied the degradation of Aroclor 1242 in granular biofilm reactors, supplemented by an aerobic biphenyl degradation step, and suggested that a near-complete mineralization of Aroclor can be achieved in a single-stage anaerobic-aerobic system (281). The recent isolation of aerobes capable of growth on diortho-substituted trichlorobiphenyls offers the hope for development of effective sequential anaerobic–aerobic bioremediation strategies (12).

In Situ Treatment

Aerobic Conditions

Several studies performed in soil microcosms spiked with defined mixtures of PCBs have shown that PCBs can be extensively biodegraded in soils, especially when they are supplemented with biphenyl and O2 and inoculated with PCB- and/or CBA-degrading bacteria (21, 49, 116, 134, 140, 141). Studies performed on actual site PCB contaminated soils have confirmed this finding (8, 95, 103, 113, 115, 136, 176, 245). Rhodococci, such as strain RHA1, are known to be effective PCB degraders surviving well in soil (179, 192, 260). Many studies have centred on LB400, which oxidises a wide range of PCBs (26, 28, 121). A study reports the isolation of three aerobic strains from Nigerian polluted soils, which were able to grow on all monoCBs and on a wide range of diCBs (68 to 100% removal) (9). Achromobacter xylosoxidans strain IR08 was proved to be a dichlorobiphenyl-mineralizing strain (198). In Zadar, Croatia, 60 % of a PCB50 mixture was reduced after a two-week cultivation of mixed cultures TSZ7 and AIR1 (232).


In a number of works, specific microflora were inoculated into soil, usually in the presence of biphenyl or other inducers (295). The following bacteria showed positive results: A mixture of the strain Pseudomonas testosteroni B-356 and a surfactant-producing, hydrocarbon-degrading strain (276) A mixture of gfp-transformed strains (Pseudomonas sp. Cam-1-gfp1 and Sag-50G-gfp1) (13) A strain of Janibacter sp., in the presence of yeast extract (264) Biphenyl-degrading strains of Arthrobacter sp. B1B and H850 together with carvone, salicylic acid, and surfactant sorbitol trioleate (267) Pseudomonas fluorescens HK 44 bearing a naphthalene degradation plasmid and the bioluminescence gene lux (15) Enzyveba, used in soils historically contaminated by Arochlor 1248 and 1260 (288) Incorporation of CBA degraders can greatly enhance the mineralization of PCBs (101, 166, 290). Fava indicates that it is possible to significantly bioremediate a highly PCB contaminated soil in slurry-phase conditions by inoculating it with exogenous PCB- and CBA degrading bacteria in the presence of biphenyl and O2 (104).


A neutral pH, an optimal level of salts, an adequate supply of macro- and microelements, and additional introduction of mineral sources of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium noticeably accelerated PCB biodegradation in some soils and sediments (107). Inducers of aerobic degradation by PCB degraders in soil and other matrices were most often biphenyl (45), mono-chlorobiphenyls and more degradable brominated PCB analogues or CBA (2-4, 22, 116, 118, 233). Clark (68) described the enhanced co-metabolism of Aroclor 1242 in the presence of acetate. Moreover, it appeared that maltotriose fatty acid monoesters could significantly increase the bioavailability, and thereby accelerate the biodegradation of highly chlorinated PCBs (112). Addition of non-analogous compounds such as inorganic nutrients (ammonia-nitrogen and phosphate), biphenyl and O2 enhanced PCB biodegradation.

Anaerobic Conditions

Reductive dechlorination of PCBs by anaerobic micro-organisms has been demonstrated to occur in the laboratory and in situ (6, 7, 14, 32, 33, 54, 55, 237). Anaerobic dechlorination of PCBs has been documented for several contaminated sites (33, 55, 78, 100, 147, 148, 227, 237). Despite a significant potential for dechlorination (100, 164), few studies have focused on the dechlorination of PCBs in marine and estuarine sediments (14, 56, 225, 326). Reductive dechlorination of spiked PCBs has been demonstrated in slurries of sediments from several sites (14, 42, 175, 225, 317, 318). Apparently, only two laboratory studies have been reported for reductive dechlorination of pre-existing PCBs in marine sediments (14, 108). Fagervold recently showed for the first time that the synergistic activities of only three Chloroflexi phylotypes (SF1, SF2, and DEH10) reductively dechlorinated the 11 major PCB congeners in Aroclor 1260 to tetra- and trichlorobiphenyls in Baltimore harbour sediment (98). The loss of meta and/or para chlorines has been demonstrated when PCB mixtures (Aroclors 1242, 1248, 1254, 1260, etc.) have been microbially dechlorinated in sediments (14, 29, 34, 225, 326). The first experimental demonstration of a biologically mediated ortho-dechlorination of PCB was using microorganisms from sediments (293). Extensive reductive dechlorination of Aroclor 1260 was demonstrated in anaerobic slurries of estuarine sediments (241a), with removal of meta- and ortho-chlorines. Macedo observed the adaptation of microbial communities in soil contaminated with PCBs, leading to the transformation of more highly chlorinated congeners in biofilm communities (181). It was recently demonstrated that paddy field soils had the potential for microbial anaerobic degradation of a wide spectrum of PCB congeners (76).


Natarajan reported extensive reductive dechlorination of spiked 23456-CB (219), Aroclor 1254 (221) and residual PCBs in sediments (220) by anaerobic microbial granules. Later, one successful augmentation study used a granular anaerobic methanogenic microbial consortium in the presence of carbon sources (223). Wu and Wiegel (266) reported that the addition of one PCB-dechlorinating culture and a PCB primer into Aroclor 1260-contaminated sediment enhanced dechlorination of the residual PCBs. Both reports also stated that primers are apparently required to sustain the dechlorination activity. Reductive PCB dechlorination activity may be catalysed by a group of micro-organisms within the dehalogenating Chloroflexi that appear to be prevalent in PCB-impacted sites (306). Yan found that sediment origin and chemistry significantly affected the activity of bioaugmented PCB-dechlorinating cultures (325).


Dechlorination in freshwater and marine environments reaches its highest rate at 25°C, and at pH 6-8. Some macro- and microelements play a certain role in the process (32, 309, 336). The use of biphenyl or recombinant micro-organisms has been investigated in slurry bioreactors (102, 125, 173). Moreover, several studies about the dechlorination of Aroclor 1260 and 1254 contaminated sediments showed positive results, by priming the indigenous micro-organisms in sediments with PCBs (30, 35, 63, 250, 293). Bedard led several studies in Housatonic river sediment and obtained good results through addition of bromobiphenyls (30, 31, 37, 38). Bromobiphenyls are however themselves recalcitrant to degradation (2), halogenated benzoates seem to be more suitable (2). DeWeerd and Bedard (84) reported using them and other halogenated aromatic compounds to stimulate the microbial dechlorination of Aroclor 1260 (210). Dehalogenation of PCBs can be accelerated by nonspecific inducers (glucose, fatty acids, alcohols, as well as zero-valence iron and hydrogen), but the final products are the same (32, 63, 250, 295). Furthermore, the addition of a defined minimal medium containing nutrients and trace minerals significantly increased the rate of microbial activity (3, 4, 5). A very successful and promising laboratory study stimulated dechlorination of Aroclor 1242 through the addition of FeSO4 to PCB-contaminated soils (38, 342). The direct addition of Fe0 to sediments may effectively reduce the lag period prior to dechlorination (152). It was shown that the concentration of sodium bicarbonate had a profound effect on 2,3,4,5-CB dechlorination in sediments (324).

Combination of Anaerobic and Aerobic Transformation

The use of a sequential anaerobic–aerobic treatment has often been proposed as a potential bioremediation strategy for the treatment of soils and sludges contaminated with PCBs (3, 16, 285), and has been successfully tested in sediment microcosms (213, 247). In Canadian arctic soils contaminated by Arochlor 1260, inoculation of anaerobic river sediments decreased the average chlorine content by 20-30% (170). Likewise, Master (193) reported a sequential anaerobic–aerobic laboratory scale treatment of soil contaminated with weathered Aroclor 1260. Several two-step anaerobic-aerobic PCB bioremediation treatments were tested in Aroclor 1242 contaminated sediment (16, 246, 262). A biological tilled soil reactor operating under cycling anaerobic-aerobic conditions recently achieved 75% reduction of total PCB in sludge from the Ralston street lagoon heavily contaminated by Aroclor 1248 (286). Japanese researchers obtained a decrease of PCB concentration by 90–98% in 2 months by incubation of sewage sludge in bioreactors regularly fed with biphenyl and fresh bacteria (208). Natarajan (221) developed a echnique of obtaining anaerobic granules which degrade PCBs. This consortium was more efficient against low-chlorinated congeners and the process was accompanied by a decrease of concentration of biphenyls (221, 223, 281).

Other Possible Treatments


Rhizoremediation is a promising bioremediation strategy (179, 289, 333). The ability of plant cells to metabolize PCBs was demonstrated 20 years ago by Groeger and Fletcher (130). It has been shown that some compounds present in root exudates can induce the bacterial degradation of PCBs (89, 111, 122, 185). Leigh first reported indigenous PCB-degrading microbial populations associated with mature perennial plants growing in PCB-contaminated soil (179). Recent papers suggest the importance of the relationship between plants and rhizospheric bacteria (65, 66, 186, 189) concerning their ability to degrade PCBs. Wilken (311) studied the metabolism of 10 different congeners of PCBs in 12 cell cultures of different plant species. Later, the ability of cultures of various species cultivated in vitro to degrade Delor 103 was studied (82, 153, 182-184). Brassica nigra directly contributed to accelerated PCB removal in Aroclor 1242 contaminated soil (268). Carex aquatalis and Spartina pectinata are predicted to be the most effective plant treatments for phytoremediation of PCBs (269). Efforts were undertaken to expand the degradation capacities of rhizosphere-competent bacteria (52, 83, 251, 333). Strain F113 is an excellent coloniser of several plant rhizospheres (81, 218, 261, 265, 296). Zeeb (336) recently studied phytoremediation of a soil weakly contaminated by aged Arochlor 1260. But no noticeable PCB removal was observed (336). Alfalfa, black nightshade, and particularly tobacco grown on a soil with a long-time PCB contamination have a positive effect on the rate of PCB degradation (251).

Dechlorination by White Rot Fungi

Although many fungi have been tested for their ability to degrade PCBs including the white-rot fungi (20, 58, 85, 90, 92, 110, 252, 287, 300, 320, 335), the mechanism of PCB biodegradation has not been definitively determined (23, 58, 85, 92, 252, 287, 300, 320). Phanerochaete chrysosporium (72) decreased PCB concentrations of Aroclors 1242, 1254, and 1260. Furthermore, congeners of lower chlorine number were shown to be degraded more extensively (320). The ability to degrade low PCB concentrations was demonstrated for several strains (154, 161, 169). Beaudette compared the biodegradation of six PCB congeners by 12 white rot fungi (23). However, only few PCB degradation studies in soil systems were performed (168, 169, 335). Low surfactant concentrations increased fungal mineralization of PCB congeners by white-rot fungi (24).

Dechlorination by Earthworms

Recent results suggest that vermicomposting bioreactors may be a suitable mechanism to remove PCBs from contaminated sludge or soils (286).

Increasing Availability

The low water solubility of PCBs and their tendency to adhere tightly to soil are limiting factors for efficient PCB degradation. Chang demonstrated an inverse correlation between solid concentrations and PCB removal performances (62). The bioavailability of PCBs in such contaminated matrixes may be effectively enhanced by amending them with suitable surfactants and bio-surfactants (1, 120, 215, 249, 292, 298). However, a number of commercial surfactants are temselves recalcitrant toxic compounds (103, 174, 249, 298). Pure cyclodextrines have however been successfully employed (505, 506). A biosurfactant is more suitable than a synthetic one (173, 267). Some bio-surfactants such as rhamnolipids, are usually accumulated in nature (88, 145). Enzymatically synthesized maltotriose esters were shown to increase the bioavailability of Aroclor 1242 (112). RAMEB (a technical mixture of irregularly methylated β-cyclodextrines), which is produced biologically, was found capable of significantly enhancing PCB bioavailability and aerobic biodegradation of PCBs in different contaminated soils (105, 107). Electrokinetic manipulation of sorbed PCBs also can increase the contaminant’s availability to microbial or chemical processes (149). Non-ionic surfactants wash more PCBs from the soil than biosurfactants, but inhibited their biodegradation with the LB400 strain (47).

Sludge Treatment

In 1992, Castaldi & Ford reported 73% removal of PCBs in 90 days of A-SB treatment of petrochemical waste sludge polluted with 115 mg/kg of PCBs (60). The potential of a chlorophenol-adapted consortium to dechlorinate PCBs in sewage sludge was investigated by Chang. The addition of acetate, lactate, pyruvate, and ferric chloride to a number of PCB congeners decreased lag times and enhanced dechlorination (62). Nakhla evaluated the biodegradability of high concentrations (130-530 ppm) of the highly chlorinated PCB congeners Aroclor 1254 and 1260 in oily sludge generated from a groundwater treatment system. Efficient PCB removal were observed (73 to 89%) (217). Furthermore, Nollet showed that using different carbon/electron sources to acclimatise anaerobic granules from commercial bioreactors could shorten the reductive dechlorination of a tri- and hepta-chlorobiphenyl in anaerobic sludge (223). At low PCB level in non-spiked sludge sample and under strict methanogenic conditions, Patureau observed PCB removals of about 40%, at all degrees of PCB chlorination (228). A recent study on the Ralston street lagoon sludge showed that with suitable amendments, anaerobic dechlorination may be a potentially viable option for on-site reduction of total PCB levels in sludge (286). Removal of Aroclor 1242 was observed in a continuously operated upflow anaerobic sludge bed reactor inoculated with granular anaerobic sludge (280). The best dechlorination rate observed in this study was much higher than the value observed in a river sediment study without addition of nutrients (238) but comparable to rates observed in batch dechlorination tests using anaerobic sludge (219). Significant detoxification and PCB mineralization in contaminated activated sludge was observed after 10 months anaerobic incubation at 35°C (43). Finally, an anaerobic digester seeded with waste activated sludge showed a better PCB biodegradation under thermophilic conditions than under mesophilic conditions (41). Dionisi tried the same comparison with xenobiotic-containing sludge but found different results (86)


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