PHC and Salt


Plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) enhanced phytoremediation systems (PEPS) have been successfully developed through a collaboration between Waterloo Environmental Biotechnology, Earthmaster Environmental Strategies and the University of Waterloo. These remediation systems are based on multiple complementary techniques that target different aspects of petroleum and salt impacted soil remediation. The result is enhanced systems with improved and accelerated remediation kinetics. This leads to more rapid and more complete removal of hydrocarbons and salt from soil. Importantly, PEPS not only removes hydrocarbons from soil, but results in their metabolism to non-toxic molecules. For salt, PEPS provides plant tolerance to elevated salt levels, allowing better plant growth with commensurate NaCl up-take into above-ground plant tissue.

The process:

Soil Pre-Treatment: Cultivate soil to homogenize, prepare a seed bed, aerate and allow for some photochemical degradation of contaminants.

Phytoremediation (plant growth) with plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR): The PGPR increase plant tolerance to petroleum and salt stress. This leads to rapid growth of plants, including roots, for effective partitioning of contaminants out of the soil.

The resulting PGPR-induced vigorous plant growth leads to greater proliferation of naturally existing microbes in the soil, leading to a very active rhizosphere. This is typical of soils with normal plant growth. The tremendous biological activity we realize in the rhizosphere results in hydrocarbon degradation. The high biomass is also important for salt partitioning out of the soil into above-ground plant tissue.

The PGPR used in this work are all non-pathogenic, non-genetically modified pseudomonads native to Canadian soils. They are sensitive to common antibiotics, do not grow at 37ºC, and are all classified as Bio-safety Level 1 (the safest possible designation). They pose no threat to humans, wildlife or the environment. The PGPR are used only via a seed treatment; the seeds are treated in a controlled environment and only the plant roots of the treated seeds are inoculated with the PGPR as they pass through the seed coat. Thus, this is classified as a seed treatment, not bio-augmentation.

Why it works:

The complementary processes build on each other so that remediation is rapidly initiated and is sustained throughout the growing season.

The PGPR mitigate production of deleterious stress ethylene in the plants, and they synthesize auxin, which is transferred to the plant. Together, these processes promote vigorous root and shoot growth under environmental stress conditions.
With PGPR, the large amount of root biomass in the soil allows for effective partitioning of contaminants out of the soil.

The PGPR confer salt tolerance to the plants.

The PGPR have the ability to metabolize PHC.

PEPS results in high rates of degradation of PHC in the soil, and improved up-take of salt.

The PGPR also protect plants against other potentially phytotoxic compounds (e.g., metals) and conditions (e.g., cold, drought) at the site to be remediated.


Based on full scale deployments of PEPS at > 20 PHC and salt impacted sites across Canada. We have had no failures.

PHC Remediation

PHC CompletedFrom 2006 to 2013, remediated F2, F3 and F4 PHCs to generic Tier 1 criteria at 10 sites; AB, BC, QC, MB, NWT and ON.

Currently being deployed at 9 new PHC impacted sites in AB and BC; of these sites, 3 sites are within 10 % of meeting generic Tier 1 guidelines.

PEPS currently successfully operating at > 30 sites > 10 sites completed.

(Click to see larger image.)

Salt Remediation

In the past 3 years, PEPS has been deployed for salt remediation at 12 sites in SK, AB and the NWT.

For soils with ECe’s up to 25 dS/m we have achieved vigorous plant growth and NaCl uptake.
salt completedAt two sites, remediation targets have already been met.

Average amount of salt up take by the plants is 25 – 50 g NaCl per kg leaf dry weight.
Each year, approximately 40 kg NaCl per acre is removed from the sites in leaf tissue.

(Click to see larger image.)