Diffuse pollution of surface soil with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is problematic in terms of the large areas and volumes of polluted soil. The levels and effects of diffuse PAH pollution at a motorway site were investigated. Surface soil was sampled with increasing distance from the asphalt pavement and tested for total amounts of PAHs, amounts of bioaccessible PAHs, total bacterial populations, PAH degrader populations, the potential for mineralization of C-14-PAHs, and mutagenicity. Elevated PAH concentrations were found in the samples taken 1-8 m from the pavement. Soil sampled at greater distances (12-24 m) contained only background levels of PAHs. The total bacterial populations (CFU and numbers of 16S rDNA genes) were similar for all soil samples, whereas the microbial degrader populations (culturable PAH degraders and numbers of PAH dioxygenase genes) were most abundant in the most polluted samples close to the pavement. Hydroxypropyl-beta-cyclodextrin extraction of soil PAHs, as a direct estimate of the bioaccessibility, indicated that only 1-5% of the PAHs were accessible to soil bacteria. This low bioaccessibility is suggested to be due to sorption to traffic soot particles. The increased PAH level close to the pavement was reflected in slightly increased mutagenic activity (1 m, 0.32 +/- 0.08 revertants g(-1) soil; background/24 m: 0.08 +/- 0.04), determined by the Salmonella/microsome assay of total extractable PAHs activated by liver enzymes. The potential for lighter molecular weight PAH degradation in combination with low bioaccessibility of heavier PAHs is proposed to lead to a likely increase in concentration of heavier PAHs over time. These residues are, however, likely to be of low biological significance.
Environmental Science and Technology, 2006, Vol 40, Issue 10, p. 3293-3298