Vertical and horizontal distributions of microbial abundances and enzymatic activities in propylene-glycol-affected soils

Borbála Biró, Giuseppe Toscano, Nikoletta Horváth, Heléna Matics, Mónika Domonkos, Riccardo Scotti, Maria A. Rao, Bente Wejden, Helen K. French

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6 Citations (Scopus)


The natural microbial activity in the unsaturated soil is vital for protecting groundwater in areas where high loads of biodegradable contaminants are supplied to the surface, which usually is the case for airports using aircraft de-icing fluids (ADF) in the cold season. Horizontal and vertical distributions of microbial abundance were assessed along the western runway of Oslo Airport (Gardermoen, Norway) to monitor the effect of ADF dispersion with special reference to the component with the highest chemical oxygen demand (COD), propylene glycol (PG). Microbial abundance was evaluated by several biondicators: colony-forming units (CFU) of some physiological groups (aerobic and anaerobic heterotrophs and microscopic fungi), most probable numbers (MPN) of PG degraders, selected catabolic enzymatic activities (fluorescein diacetate (FDA) hydrolase, dehydrogenase, and β-glucosidase). High correlations were found between the enzymatic activities and microbial counts in vertical soil profiles. All microbial abundance indicators showed a steep drop in the first meter of soil depth. The vertical distribution of microbial abundance can be correlated by a decreasing exponential function of depth. The horizontal trend of microbial abundance (evaluated as total aerobic CFU, MPN of PG-degraders, and FDA hydrolase activity) assessed in the surface soil at an increasing distance from the runway is correlated negatively with the PG and COD loads, suggesting the relevance of other chemicals in the modulation of microbial growth. The possible role of potassium formate, component of runway de-icers, has been tested in the laboratory by using mixed cultures of Pseudomonas spp., obtained by enrichment with a selective PG medium from soil samples taken at the most contaminated area near the runway. The inhibitory effect of formate on the growth of PG degraders is proven by the reduction of biomass yield on PG in the presence of formate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9095-9108
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Science and Pollution Research
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2014



  • Aircraft de-icing fluids
  • Formate
  • Natural attenuation
  • Propylene glycol
  • Pseudomonas
  • Soil microbial activity
  • Soil pollution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

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