Petroleum hydrocarbons from a lagoon storing waste oil in New Jersey have contaminated underlying soil and groundwater. Biofilm column studies were performed to investigate biotransformation of the petroleum mixture under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. The waste oil at concentrations ranging between 10 and 100 mg/L was continuously applied to glass bead columns that resembled porous media. The majority of the alkylbenzenes and polynuclear aromatic compounds identified in the oil mixture were simultaneously biotransformed by aerobic biofilms within a 2-hour hydraulic residence time. In a methanogenic biofilm column with 2-day hydraulic residence time, the mixture of hydrocarbons was initially removed by sorption with complete breakthrough occurring after 300 days of operation. After 600 days, the methanogenic biofilm acclimated to several of the specific hydrocarbon components, and effluent concentrations decreased due to apparent biotransformation. Radiotracer studies with toluene, naphthalene, and 2-methyl-naphthalene indicated partial mineralization to CO2 under both aerobic and methanogenic conditions. Reaction rates observed in the laboratory biofilms indicate that biotransformation could be an effective process to control hydrocarbon contamination in the environment.

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