Remobilisation of uranium from contaminated freshwater sediments by bioturbation
Benthic macro-invertebrate bioturbation can influence the remobilisation of uranium (U) initially associated with freshwater sediments, resulting in a high release of this pollutant through the overlying water column. Given the potential negative effects on aquatic biocenosis and the global ecological risk, it appears crucial to improve our current knowledge concerning the biogeochemical behaviour of U in sediments. The present study aimed to assess the biogeochemical modifications induced by Tubifex tubifex (Annelida, Clitellata, Tubificidae) bioturbation within the sediment in order to explain such a release of U. To reach this goal, U distribution between solid and solute phases of a reconstructed benthic system (i.e. in mesocosms) inhabited or not by T. tubifex worms was assessed in a 12-day laboratory experiment. Thanks notably to fine-resolution (mm-scale) measurements (e.g. "diffusive equilibrium in thin-films" DET gel probes for porewater, bioaccumulation in worms) of U and main chemical species (iron, sulfate, nitrate and nitrite), this work (i) confirmed that the removal of bottom sediment particles to the surface through the digestive tract of worms greatly favoured oxidative loss of U in the water column, and (ii) demonstrated that both U contamination and bioturbation of T. tubifex substantially influenced major microbial-driven biogeochemical reactions in sediments (e.g. stimulation of denitrification, sulfate reduction and iron dissolutive reduction). This study provides the first demonstration of biogeochemical modifications induced by bioturbation in freshwater U-contaminated sediments.