Jump to main content.


  Literature Review on the Use of Bioremediation Agents for Cleanup of Oil-Contaminated Estuarine Environments (61 pp, 520 KB) (EPA/600/R-04/075) July 2004

This document describes a comprehensive review of the use of commercial bioremediation products that treat oil spills in all environments. Literature assessed includes peer-reviewed articles, company reports, government reports, and reports by cleanup contractors engaged in responses to oil spills. The scope of this review included primarily estuarine environments; however, marine shorelines, terrestrial environments, freshwaters, and wetlands are frequent candidates for bioremediation of spilled oil, and for completeness these ecosystems are also included in the review.

The review is useful for oil spill responders (e.g., on-scene coordinators and response contractors) to better understand the feasibility of using bioremediation technology. The review is also an aid in selecting bioremediation products.

The conclusions reached by this review are as follows. First, bioaugmentation appears to have little benefit for the treatment of spilled oil in an open environment. Microbial addition has not been shown to work better than nutrient addition alone in many field trials. However, case studies provided by vendors suggest that application of bioaugmentation products could still have some potential benefit in the treatment of specific oil components, isolated spills in confined areas, and certain environments where oil-degrading microorganisms are deficient. The evidence for such a conclusion is not strong and in most cases is scientifically deficient.

Second, biostimulation has been proven to be a promising tool to treat certain aerobic oil-contaminated shorelines. One of the key factors for the success of oil biostimulation is to maintain an optimal nutrient level in the interstitial pore water. In general, commercial oleophilic nutrient products have not shown clear advantages over common agricultural fertilizers in stimulating oil biodegradation. Effects of nutrients are also highly site specific. For example, the availability of oxygen rather than nutrients is often the limiting factor in wetland environments where addition of nutrient products has not been successful in enhancing oil biodegradation.

The extreme uncertainty associated with the efficacy of bioremediation agents is due in large part to the poorly designed field tests that have been conducted to demonstrate efficacy. Much of the literature indicated a lack of proper controls and treatment randomization and replication, or the data were incorrectly analyzed. In order to advance commercial bioremediation for the environments described in this report, especially estuaries, experiments based on sound scientific principles are needed.


Albert Venosa

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page.
See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

Office of Research & Development | National Risk Management Research Laboratory

Local Navigation

Jump to main content.