Assessment Of Tropical Grasses And Legumes For Phytoremediation Of Petroleum-Contaminated Soils

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Phytoremediation is a promising technology for the clean-up of petroleum-contaminated soils, especially in the tropics where climatic conditions favour plant growth and microbial activity and where financial resources can be limited. The objective of this work was to identify tropical plant species from the eastern savannahs of Venezuela suitable for this technology. Three legumes (Calopogonium mucunoides, Centrosema brasilianum, Stylosanthes capitata) and three grasses (Brachiaria brizantha, Cyperus aggregatus, Eleusine indica) were tested for their ability to stimulate microbial degradation in soil contaminated with 5% (w/w) of a heavy crude oil. In greenhouse experiments, plant biomass production and oil dissipation (total oil and grease, and fraction composition) were analysed after 90 and 180 days incubation. Although previously tested on their tolerance to oil contamination, the legumes died within six to eight weeks. The grasses showed reduced biomass production under the influence of the contaminant. Relative growth rates were higher in contaminated soil indicating a delay in plant growth patterns and development. Soil planted with B. brizantha and C. aggregatus showed a significantly lower oil concentration than non-vegetated soil. Furthermore, a positive correlation between root biomass production and oil degradation was found. Concentration of saturated hydrocarbons was always lower in planted than in unplanted soil. B. brizantha also caused a considerable reduction of aromatics. Based on these results, B. brizantha is recommended for follow-up investigations which could further develop the application of phytoremediation of petroleum-contaminated soils in the tropics.

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