Problem- Benzene Contamination

Benzene and alkylbenzenes (BTEX) are petroleum-derived compounds and widespread groundwater contaminants arising from accidental rerelease at industrial facilities, oil refineries, pipelines, and mining operations. The Canadian Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory includes more than 6,000 sites contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons.

Benzene in particular is:

  • a significant threat to human health. Benzene is a confirmed carcinogen and can cause anemia, as well as decreases in immune system functions.
  • persistent in the environment. Benzene has a half-life of over 210 days in anoxic environments.
  • is highly regulated. Benzene has a Maximum Acceptable Concentration of 5 micrograms per litre.

Solution- Bioaugmentation

Although aerobic biodegradation of benzene and BTEX compounds can be effective, it is not always possible or cost effective to deliver sufficient oxygen into the subsurface to facilitate aerobic processes.
Therefore, this project is optimizing and scaling-up microbial cultures and monitoring tools that will drive an in-situ remediation approach that operates under prevailing anaerobic conditions, substantially enhancing natural attenuation processes. Our solution will:

  • significantly decrease the time to clean up sites
  • reduce the cost to meet regulatory requirements
  • avoid disrupting on-going site activities
  • reduce the costs of site monitoring


Researchers in BioZone at the University of Toronto are working with SiREM, Imperial Oil, and Federated Co-operatives to scale-up, field test, and bring this BTEX degrading bioaugmentation technology to market. Project activities include:

  • Scale up proven cultures for commercial testing
  • Identify, develop and validate target biomarkers
  • Collect data required for regulatory approvals

Industry Partners