Microbial community activities during establishment, performance, and decline of bench-scale passive treatment systems for mine drainage

Miranda V. Logan, Kenneth F. Reardon, Linda A. Figueroa, Jean E.T. McLain, Dianne M. Ahmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Permeable reactive barrier (PRB) technology, in which sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) facilitate precipitation of metal sulfides, is a promising approach for remediation of sulfate- and metal-laden mine drainage. While PRBs are easily established, they often decline for reasons not well understood. SRB depend on or compete with multiple dynamic microbial populations within a PRB; as a result, performance depends on the changing PRB chemical composition and on succession and competition within the microbial community. To investigate these interactions, we constructed and monitored eight bench-scale PRBs to define periods of establishment, performance, and decline. We then conducted short-term batch studies, using substrate-supplemented column materials, on Days 0 (pre-establishment), 27 (establishment), 41 (performance), and 99 (decline) to reveal potential activities of cellulolytic bacteria, fermenters+anaerobic respirers, SRB, and methanogens. PRBs showed active sulfate reduction, with sulfate removal rates (SRR) of ∼1-3 mol/m3/d, as well as effective removal of Zn2+. Potential activities of fermentative+anaerobic respiratory bacteria were initially high but diminished greatly during establishment and dropped further during performance and decline. In contrast, potential SRB activity rose during establishment, peaked during performance, and diminished as performance declined. Potential methanogen activity was low; in addition, SRB-methanogen substrate competition was shown not to limit SRB activity. Cellulolytic bacteria showed no substrate limitation at any time. However, fermenters experienced substrate limitation by Day 0, SRB by Day 27, and methanogens by Day 41, showing the dependence of each group on upstream populations to provide substrates. All potential activities, except methanogenesis, were ultimately limited by cellulose hydrolysis; in addition, all potential activities except methanogenesis declined substantially by Day 99, showing that long-term substrate deprivation strongly diminished the intrinsic capacity of the PRB community to perform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4537-4551
Number of pages15
JournalWater research
Issue number18
StatePublished - Nov 2005


  • Groundwater treatment
  • Microbial community
  • Mine drainage
  • Permeable reactive barrier
  • Sulfate reduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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