Hydrogeology and Landscape Hydrology

Redox sensitivity and long-term persistence of organic trace pollutants in groundwater: Wastewater-bound compounds

Project summary

The increasing pollution of the aquatic environment with numerous organic micropollutants such as pharmaceutical residues is a problem of alarming global dimensions. Preliminary studies have shown that it is necessary to correlate the behaviour and degradation (and likewise persistence) of organic micropollutants in groundwater with the prevailing transient hydraulic and hydrochemical (in particular redox) conditions in the field in order to identify the key parameters controlling their elimination. The proposed research will investigate the behavior of wastewater-bound organic micropollutants in groundwater with a particular focus on their redox-dependent biodegradation and long-term persistence. A “redox screening”, where anoxic groundwater contaminated with wastewater residues will be incubated under anoxic or oxic conditions, will first be done to identify redox-sensitive compounds. It will be accompanied by field investigations on contaminated groundwater downstream of former sewage irrigation fields, which will be analysed for organic micropollutants and dated with the tritium/helium method. The results will deliver information on the long-term persistence of the micropollutants under the given hydrochemical conditions. More detailed column studies under variable redox conditions will be conducted mimicking field conditions. Finally, reactive transport modelling will be carried out to confirm developed conceptual models and to derive degradation rate constants in relation to the redox regime.


Berlin Water Company (Berliner Wasserbetriebe)


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), Projekt Ma 3274 5-1

Project duration

2010- 2013


Victoria Burke: "Redox-sensitivity and long-term persistence of pharmaceutical residues in groundwater"
Aline Henzler: "Reactive transport modeling of the behavior of redox-sensitive wastewater-bound organic trace compounds in groundwater"
Thi Thuy Hang Nham: "Field scale reactive transport modelling of organic trace compounds in groundwater"


Burke, V., Greskowiak, J., Asmuß, T., Bremermann, R., Taute, T., Massmann, G. (2014):Temperature dependent redox zonation and attenuation of wastewater-derived organic micropollutants in the hyporheic zone, Sci. Tot. Environ. (in press)

Burke, V., Dünnbier, U., Massmann, G. (2013). The effect of aeration on the removal of wastewater derived pharmaceutical residues from groundwater - a laboratory study. Water Sci. and Technol. 67(3): 658-666

Burke, V., Treumann, S., Duennbier, U., Greskowiak, J., Massmann, G. (2013): Sorption behavior of 20 wastewater originated micropollutants in groundwater - Column experiments with pharmaceutical residues and industrial agents, J. Cont. Hydrol., 154, 29-41

Burke, V., Richter, D., Hass, U., Duennbier, U., Greskowiak, J., Massmann, G. (2013): Redox dependent removal of 27 organic trace pollutants - Compilation of results from tank aeration experiments, Environ. Earth Sci., doi:  10.1007/s12665-013-2762-8

Hass, U., Dünnbier, U., Massmann, G. (2012). Occurrence of psychoactive compounds and their metabolites in groundwater down gradient of a decommissioned sewage farm in Berlin (Germany). Environm. Sci. and Poll. Res. 19(6): 2096-2106

Henzler, A.F., Greskowiak J., Massmann, G. (2014): Modeling the fate of organic micropollutants during river bank filtration (Berlin, Germany), J. Cont. Hydrol., 156, 78-92