Unrefined humic substances as a potential low-cost amendment for the management of acidic groundwater contamination

J Environ Manage. 2018 Apr 15;212:210-218. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.02.017. Epub 2018 Feb 22.


The present study explores a novel application of Huma-K, a commercially available, unrefined humic substance, as a promising low-cost source of organic matter for in situ remediation of contaminated acidic groundwater plumes. This can be achieved by creating a humic-rich coating on the surface of minerals which can enhance the sorption of contaminants from groundwater. Huma-K was characterized by means of scanning electron microscopy equipped with energy dispersive spectroscopy, Fourier-transform infrared analysis, and potentiometric titrations. Batch experiments were performed to investigate the sorption-desorption behavior of Huma-K and to evaluate what conditions (pH, contact time, and initial Huma-K concentration) affect these processes upon injection into aquifer sediments. As evidenced by potentiometric titrations, Huma-K possesses functional groups that have an acidic nature, with pK values in the range of 4-6 (carboxylic) and 9-10 (phenolic). Sorption, homogeneous precipitation, and surface-induced precipitation seem to be favored in the presence of sediment at pH 4, where there is less deprotonation of acidic functional groups. As the pH is increased, functional groups become negatively charged, leading to electrostatic repulsion and dissolution of Huma-K from sediment. Kinetic experiments indicate that Huma-K sorption is a slow-rate process, most likely governed by film diffusion. The enhanced sorption of Huma-K in acidic conditions suggests that it may be used to create a subsurface treatment zone in acidic aquifers for the sequestration of contaminants such as uranium. The treatment zone will persist as long as the pH does not increase sufficiently to cause soil-bound Huma-K to be released, remobilizing aqueous contaminants.

Keywords: Acidic plume; Humic substances; Sorption; Uranium.

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Groundwater*
  • Humic Substances*
  • Uranium
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive / isolation & purification*


  • Humic Substances
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Uranium