Transport and Fate of Escherichia coli in Unsaturated Porous Media

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: The unsaturated zone could provide an effective barrier against pathogenic microbes entering the groundwater. Knowledge relating to microbial fate in this zone is therefore important for increased understanding of groundwater vulnerability. This thesis examines the published literature that is related to the transport, retention and survival processes that apply to the fecal indicator bacterium Escherichia coli in unsaturated porous media. The main focus concerns the research findings under steady-state flow in homogeneous filter media, and under unfavorable attachment conditions, which are the most common in the natural environment. Experimental results in the literature for the pore-, column- and field-scale are examined and compared to commonly applied theories and modeling approaches. An analysis of the main factors that influence attenuation and biofilm formation is provided. Further, the findings are illustrated in a model of an unplanted, vertical flow constructed wetland. The results indicate that retention at the solid-air-water interface is a major attenuation process. In addition, they suggest that the flow velocity (as dependent on the grain size and the saturation) is a key influencing factor. However, it has not yet been established how the research findings relating to the main processes and influencing factors can be incorporated into predictive models; in the literature, a multitude of models have been proposed and alternative theories could describe the same observation. In this study, the transport and fate of Escherichia coli in different sand filters is, therefore, modeled using various literature models - derived under similar experimental conditions - in order to assess the possibility to compare and generalize the equations, evaluate their implications considering the different saturation settings and filter depths, and to define the spectra of the reduction efficiencies. It is discovered that the bacterial attenuation behaviors vary largely. This calls for clarification regarding the underlying processes. Future research is also recommended to include the ef-fects of structured filter media and sudden changes in the flow rate.