Toxicity of N-substituted aromatics to acetoclastic methanogenic activity in granular sludge

B. A. Donlon, E. Razo-Flores, J. A. Field, G. Lettinga

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148 Scopus citations


N-substituted aromatics are important priority pollutants entering the environment primarily through anthropogenic activities associated with the industrial production of dyes, explosives, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals. Anaerobic treatment of wastewaters discharged by these industries could potentially be problematical as a result of the high toxicity of N- substituted aromatics. The objective of this study was to examine the structure-toxicity relationships of N-substituted aromatic compounds to acetoclastic methanogenic bacteria. The toxicity was assayed in serum flasks by measuring methane production in granular sludge. Unacclimated cultures were used to minimize the biotransformation of the toxic organic chemicals during the test. The nature and the degree of the aromatic substitution were observed to have a profound effect on the toxicity of the test compound. Nitroaromatic compounds were, on the average, over 500-fold more toxic than their corresponding aromatic amines. Considering the facile reduction of nitro groups by anaerobic microorganisms, a dramatic detoxification of nitroaromatics towards methanogens can be expected to occur during anaerobic wastewater treatment. While the toxicity exerted by the N-substituted aromatic compounds was closely correlated with compound apolarity (log P), it was observed that at any given log P, N-substituted phenols had a toxicity that was 2 orders of magnitude higher than that of chlorophenols and alkylphenols. This indicates that toxicity due to the chemical reactivity of nitroaromatics is much more important than partitioning effects in bacterial membranes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3889-3893
Number of pages5
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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