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Dendroremediation of trinitrotoluene (TNT) part 1: Literature overview and research concept

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Background, Aim and Scope

For decades, very large areas of former military sites have been contaminated diffusely with the persistent nitroaromatic explosive 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT). The recalcitrance of the environmental hazard TNT is to a great extent due to its paniculate soil existence, which leads to slow but continuous leaching processes. Although improper handling during the manufacture of TNT seems to be a problem of the past in developed countries, environmental deposition of TNT and other explosives is still going on unfortunately, resulting from thousands of unexploded ordnance or low order explosions at munitions test areas and at current battlefields.


Sustainable phytoremediation strategies for explosives in Germany, which intend to use trees to decontaminate soil and groundwater (‘dendroremediation’), have to consider that most of the former German military sites are already covered with woodlands, mainly with conifer stands. Therefore, parallel investigation of the remediation potential is necessary for both of the selected hybrids of fast growing broadleaf trees, which are waiting for planting and forest conifers, which have already proven for decades that they are able to grow on explosive contaminated sites.

Main Features

A short literature review is given regarding phytoremediation of TNT with herbaceous plants and some general aspects of dendroremediation are discussed. Furthermore, an overview of our TNT-dendroremediation research network is introduced, which has the strategic goal to make dendroremediation more calculable for a series of potent trees for site-adaptedin situ application and for the assessment of tree remediation potentials in natural attenuation processes.

Results and Discussion

Some of our methods, results and conclusions yet unpublished are presented. For a preliminary calculation of area-related annual TNT dendroremediation potential of five-year-old trees, the following values were assessed:Salix EW-13 6.0,Salix EW-20 8.5,Popuius ZP-007 4.2,Betula pendula 5.2, Picea abies 1.9 andPinus sylvestris 0.8 g m-2 a-1. For a 45-year-old spruce forest, an annual natural attenuation potential of 4.2 g TNT m-2 a-1 was found.

Conclusion, Recommendations and Perspective

Our main results deliver quantitative proposals for dendroremediation strategiesin situ and provide decision aids. Also aspects of growth of raw materials for energy production are considered. Our dendroremediation research concept for TNT and its congeners can be easily completed for other trees of interest and it can also be applied to herbaceous plants. Knowing the current bottlenecks of phytoremediation and considering the known environmental behaviour of other contaminants, elements of our methodological approach may be easily adapted to those pollutant groups, e.g. for pesticides, pharmaceuticals, PAHs, chlorinated recalcitrants and, with some restrictions, to inorganics and to multiple contaminations. Our dynamical dendrotolerance test systems will help to predict tree growth on polluted areas. To provide some light into the black box of TNT dendroremediation, experimental data regarding the uptake, distribution and degradation of [14C]-TNT in mature tree tissues will be reported in the second part of this publication.

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Schoenmuth, B.W., Pestemer, W. Dendroremediation of trinitrotoluene (TNT) part 1: Literature overview and research concept. Environ Sci & Pollut Res 11, 273–278 (2004).

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  • Coniferous tree
  • deciduous tree
  • dendroremediation
  • explosives
  • natural attenuation
  • nitroaromatic compounds
  • phytoremediation
  • soil decontamination
  • TNT (2,4,6-trinitrotoluene)