Impact of organic acids and sulfate on the biogeochemical properties of soil from urban subsurface environments

Sunhui Lee, Edward J. O'Loughlin, Man Jae Kwon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Urban subsurface environments are often different from undisturbed subsurface environments due to the impacts of human activities. For example, deterioration of underground infrastructure can introduce elevated levels of Ca, Fe, and heavy metals into subsurface soils and groundwater. Likewise, leakage from sewer systems can lead to contamination by organic C, N, S, and P. However, the impact of these organic and inorganic compounds on biogeochemical processes including microbial redox reactions, mineral transformations, and microbial community transitions in urban subsurface environments is poorly understood. Here we conducted a microcosm experiment with soil samples from an urban construction site to investigate the possible biotic and abiotic processes impacted when sulfate and acetate or lactate were introduced into an urban subsurface environment. In the top-layer soil (0–0.3 m) microcosms, which were highly alkaline (pH > 10), the major impact was on abiotic processes such as secondary mineral precipitation. In the mid-layer (2–3 m) soil microcosms, the rate of Fe(III)-reduction and the amount of Fe(II) produced were greatly impacted by the specific organic acid added, and sulfate-reduction was not observed until after Fe(III)-reduction was complete. Near the end of the incubation, some genera related to syntrophic acetate oxidation and methanogenesis were observed in the lactate-amended microcosms. In the bottom-layer (7–8 m) soil microcosms, the rate of Fe(III)-reduction and the amount of Fe(II) produced were affected by the concentration of amended sulfate. Sulfate-reduction was concurrent with Fe(III)-reduction, suggesting that Fe(II) production was likely due to abiotic reduction of Fe(III) by sulfide produced by microbial sulfate reduction. The slightly acidic initial pH (~5.8) of the mid-soil system was a major factor controlling sequential microbial Fe(III) and sulfate reduction versus parallel Fe(III) and sulfate reduction in the bottom soil system, which had a neutral initial pH (~7.2). 16S rRNA gene-based community analysis revealed a variety of indigenous microbial groups including alkaliphiles, dissimilatory iron and sulfate reducers, syntrophes, and methanogens tightly coupled with, and impacted by, these complex abiotic and biogeochemical processes occurring in urban subsurface environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112756
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Volume292
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Aug 15

Keywords

  • Alkaliphilic bacteria
  • Calcium sulfate minerals
  • Dissimilatory iron reduction
  • Dissimilatory sulfate reduction
  • Microbial community
  • Syntrophic acetate oxidation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

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