We examined the rate of degradation of a benzene–toluene mixture in aerobic microcosms prepared with samples of an aquifer that lies below a petrochemical plant (SIReN, UK). Five samples exposed to different concentrations of benzene (from 0.6 to 317 mg l−1) were used. Fast degradation (approx. 1–6 mg l−1 day−1) of both contaminants was observed in all groundwater samples and complete degradation was recorded by the seventh day except for one sample. We also identified the microbial community in each of the samples by culture-independent techniques. Two of the less impacted samples harbour the aerobic benzene degrader Pseudomonas fluorescens, while Acidovorax and Arthrobacter spp. were found in the most polluted sample and are consistent with the population observed in situ. Hydrogenophaga was found in the deepest sample while Rhodoferax spp. were recovered in an alkaline sample (pH 8.4) and may also be implicated in benzene degradation. Time series analysis shows that each of the samples has a different community but they remain stable over the degradation period. This study provides new information on a well not previously studied (no. 309s) and confirms that adapted communities have the ability to degrade hydrocarbon mixtures and could be used in further bioaugmentation approaches in contaminated sites
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