Plant Activity and Organic Contaminant Processing by Aquatic Plants

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Tront, Jacqueline Marie
Saunders, F. Michael
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This research explored fate of organic contaminants in aquatic plant systems through (i) experimental development of relationships to describe sorption, uptake and enzymatic processing of contaminants by plants and inhibition of aquatic plants by contaminants and (ii) incorporation of experimental relationships into a conceptual model which describes contaminant fate in aquatic plant systems. This study focused on interactions of aquatic plants L. minor and M. aquaticum with halogenated phenols. 2,4,5-trichlorophenol (2,4,5-TCP) and 2,4-dichlorophenol (2,4-DCP) are precursors for the highly toxic and heavily applied herbicides 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D and were examined in detail. Chlorophenols are generally resistant to microbial degradation, a property which may limit microbial remediation options as effective alternatives for clean up of contaminated sites. Relationships for fundamental interactions between plants and contaminants that dictate uptake, enzymatic processing and sequestration of contaminants by aquatic plants were established. An assay which quantified production of oxygen by plants was developed to quantify plant metabolic activity and inhibition. Uptake of chlorinated phenols depended on plant activity and aqueous phase concentration of contaminant in the protonated form. Therefore, plant activity, contaminant pKa and media pH were established as critical parameters controlling rate of contaminant uptake. A conceptual model was developed which incorporated plant activity and inhibition into a mathematical description of uptake of organic contaminants by aquatic plants. The conceptual model was parameterized using experimental data delineating effect of plant activity, inhibition and speciation on contaminant uptake and the model was verified using independently gathered data. Experimentation with radio-labeled chlorinated phenols established that contaminants were sequestered internal to plants by plant enzymatic processing. 19F NMR was established as a technique to quantify transformation and conjugation products internal to plants and contaminant assimilation by plants and demonstrated that multiple metabolites containing the parent compound were present and quantifiable internal to plants. Finally, fate of plant-sequestered contaminants in an anaerobic bioassay was examined using Desulfitobacterium sp. strain Viet1. The results of this study address the role of aquatic plants in sequestration of contaminants in surface waters that indicate the potential and limitations of use of aquatic plants in natural and engineered treatment systems.
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