Degradation of potassium formate in the unsaturated zone of a sandy aquifer

J Environ Qual. 2005 Aug 9;34(5):1665-71. doi: 10.2134/jeq2004.0323. Print 2005 Sep-Oct.


This paper presents results from a lysimeter experiment on the fate of potassium formate, an alternative deicing agent. The experiment was performed through the winter and spring to identify any thermal sensitivity in the transport and biodegradation of formate in the lysimeter. Ninety-eight percent of the total quantity of formate applied was degraded while percolating through the 1.7-m-thick unsaturated sand layer within the lysimeter. Concomitantly, the bicarbonate concentration of the percolating water increased. The low concentrations of nitrogen (0.02 mg L(-1)) and phosphorous (<0.002 mg L(-1)) in the percolated water, however, potentially limited microbial activity. During the study period, 99% of the applied potassium was retained in the lysimeter, and the ion exchange between the potassium and a variety of monovalent and divalent ions was assumed to be responsible for the leaching of barium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium from the soil material. Except for manganese, the concentrations of the studied metals in the percolated water did not exceed the threshold values set for drinking water by the Council of the European Union. By contrast, the application of potassium formate had a detrimental effect on the vegetation on the lysimeter. To conclude, formate was effectively degraded in the sandy lysimeter and its application did not cause major undesirable changes in the quality of the percolating water. Further research at field scale is, however, needed for instance on the biodegradation of potassium formate and on its impacts on roadside vegetation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Finland
  • Formates / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Potassium / metabolism*
  • Silicon Dioxide*
  • Spectrophotometry, Atomic
  • Time Factors


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Formates
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Nitrogen
  • Potassium