Mutagenic and toxic activity of environmental effluents from underground coal gasification experiments

H. Timourian, J. S. Felton, D. H. Stuermer, S. Healy, P. Berry, M. Tompkins, G. Battaglia, F. T. Hatch, L. H. Thompson, A. V. Carrano, J. Minkler, E. Salazar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Using bacterial bioassays, we have screened for the presence of mutagens and toxins in extracts from groundwater, and in tar from product gas, at the sites of two Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in situ experiments: Hoe Creek II and Hoe Creek III. The sites exhibited different potential biological hazards, suggesting that different gasification processes may represent different human health concerns. We found that mutagens are present in groundwater, persist for at least 2 yr after gasification has been terminated, and show a change in activity with time - possibly in parallel with changes in chemical composition. Preliminary evidence suggests that the mutagens in groundwater are quinoline and aniline derivatives, while the toxins in groundwater may be phenolic compounds. In tar from the product gas, the organic bases and neutrals were found to be genotoxic in both bacterial and mammalian cells; the neutral compounds appear to be the major mutagenic health hazards. Neutral compounds constitute most of the tar (85-97 wt%) and were mutagenic in both the bacterial and mammalian cell assays. Tar in the gas stream may be a problem for the aboveground environment if gas escapes through fractures in the overburden. Because it is mutagenic and induces chromosomal damage to mammalian cells, the tar may represent a disposal problem as well. However, it is difficult to assess tar quantitatively as a health hazard because its mutagenic activity is low, possibly due to contaminants in the neutral fraction that act to suppress mutagenicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)975-994
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Toxicology and Environmental Health
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - 1982
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution


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