Performance of a field-scale biological permeable reactive barrier for in-situ remediation of nitrate-contaminated groundwater

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Apr 1;659:211-220. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.12.340. Epub 2018 Dec 24.


We report the performance of a field-scale permeable reactive barrier (PRB) for the biological treatment of nitrate-contaminated groundwater. The reactive material of the PRB consisted of a mixture of gravel and mulch as a carbon source for denitrifying bacteria. The PRB was equipped with a delivery system that allowed injecting NO3- at controlled rates from the surface directly into the up-gradient layer of the PRB. This way, NO3- concentration entering the PRB was varied (from 1 to 530 mg/L) with the purpose of evaluating the ultimate efficiency of the PRB under different NO3- loadings. The PRB was successful at removing NO3- from groundwater at inlet concentrations up to 280 mg/L (with NO3- removal percentages ≥97%). Monitoring of groundwater at different depths within the PRB provided evidence that NO3- underwent denitrification preferably at the deepest part of the PRB, where more favourable reducing conditions were achieved. Among the shortcomings of the PRB were the fluctuations of groundwater fluxes caused by intense rainfalls during the study period, although they generally did not pose concern for the denitrification capacity of the PRB. Emission fluxes of gases (CO2, CH4 and N2O) from the PRB to the atmosphere were also measured. The results are finally compared with the few others reported existing PRBs for nitrate-contaminated groundwater worldwide.

Keywords: Denitrification; Groundwater contamination; In-situ remediation; Nitrate; Permeable reactive barrier.

MeSH terms

  • Denitrification*
  • Environmental Restoration and Remediation / methods*
  • Groundwater / analysis*
  • Nitrates / analysis*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid / methods
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*


  • Nitrates
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical