Biodegradation of Charcoal Production Wastes

Tom Miles

Biodegradation of Charcoal Production Wastes
USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, Toxics Program Remediation Activities

Kingsford, Michigan


* Waste Waters (Pyroligneous Acid)
* Hydrocarbons (Creosote and Tar)


"In 1995, a house in Kingsford, Michigan, developed explosive levels of methane (CH4) that was degassing from the aquifer below the house. Methane built up in the basement, and eventually an explosion occurred. The methane was likely the result of the microbial degradation of organic compounds in a plume of contaminants emanating from nearby industrial areas. The operation of charcoal production and other industrial facilities led to the release of organic compounds, such as pyroligneous acid, creosote, and tar into the subsurface. As the organic compounds migrated away from the industrial areas, microorganisms converted the organic compounds to methane and carbon dioxide, creating plumes of methane in the subsurface. The methane moved with the natural ground-water flow system and escaped to the surface.

To help determine the source of the methane-generating ground water, USGS scientists used compound-specific carbon-isotope analysis. The isotopic signature of the contaminants was used to help identify if there was one or more sources of contamination and to help understand the natural degradation of the contaminants."