Application of denitrifying bioreactors for the removal of atrazine in agricultural drainage water

Bahareh Hassanpour, Larry D. Geohring, Annaleise R. Klein, Shree Giri, Ludmilla Aristilde, Tammo S. Steenhuis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Atrazine and nitrate NO 3 -N are two agricultural pollutants that occur widely in surface and groundwater. One of the pathways by which these pollutants reach surface water is through subsurface drainage tile lines. Edge-of-field anaerobic denitrifying bioreactors apply organic substrates such as woodchips to stimulate the removal of NO 3 -N from the subsurface tile waters through denitrification. Here we investigated the co-removal of NO 3 −N and atrazine by these bioreactors. Laboratory experiments were conducted using 12-L woodchips-containing flow-through bioreactors, with and without the addition of biochar, to treat two concentrations of atrazine (20 and 50 μg L −1 ) and NO 3 −N (1.5 and 11.5 mg L −1 ), operated at four hydraulic retention time, HRT, (4 h, 8 h, 24 h, 72 h). Additionally, we examined the effect of aerating the bioreactors on atrazine removal. Furthermore, we tested atrazine removal by a field woodchip denitrifying bioreactor. The removal of both NO 3 −N and atrazine increased with increasing HRT in the laboratory bioreactors. At 4 h, the woodchip bioreactors removed 65% of NO 3 −N and 25% of atrazine but, at 72 h, the bioreactors eliminated all the NO 3 −N and 53% of atrazine. Biochar-amended bioreactors removed up to 90% of atrazine at 72-h retention time. We concluded that atrazine removal was primarily via adsorption because neither aeration nor NO 3 −N levels had an effect. At 4-h retention time, the field bioreactors achieved 2.5 times greater atrazine removal than the laboratory bioreactors. Our findings thus highlighted hydraulic retention time and biochar amendments as two important factors that may control the efficiency of atrazine removal by denitrifying bioreactors. In sum, laboratory and field data demonstrated that denitrifying bioreactors have the potential to decrease pesticide transport from agricultural lands to surface waters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-56
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019


  • Adsorption
  • Biochar
  • Denitrification
  • Hydraulic retention time
  • Woodchips

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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