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Environmental fate & pathways

Biodegradation in water: screening tests

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Description of key information

Furfural is concluded to be readily biodegradable

Key value for chemical safety assessment

Biodegradation in water:
readily biodegradable

Additional information

The available data for biodegradation of furfural are summarised in the EU RAR (2008).

The key study is viewed to be the modified MITI (OECD 301C) study (MITI, 1976) reporting 93.5% degradation.

In flow-through bioreactor tests with acclimated activated sludge inoculum, biodegradation was observed at concentrations of furfural up to 1000 mg/l (e.g. Pitter, 1976). With unadapted activated sludge it is reported that biodegradation starts after a lag phase of 4-7 days (Rowe and Tullos, 1980).  In river die-away tests with acclimated microorganisms, within 3 or 5-12 days at 1 or 25 mg/l furfural respectively, 100% degradation occurred (Ettinger et al., 1954). In a BOD5-test 77% degradation was reported (Verschueren, 1983).

Virtually complete anaerobic biodegradation (99-100%) was reported within 30-32 days in an acclimated microorganisms with 580 mg or 2320 furfural/l (Benjamin et al., 1984). However the same author reported no biodegradation with unacclimated microorganisms, suggesting that furfural may be toxic or inactivated the microorganisms.

Furfural, added to a continuously stirred tank reactor with adapted sludge cultures, produced 80% of the theoretically expected biogas (Rivard & Grohmann, 1991) with intermediates including furfuryl alcohol, furoic acid and acetic acid. At concentrations higher than 1000 mg/l, furfural inhibited growth and metabolic activity of unadapted anaerobic cultures, but acclimation was found to increase the degradation capacity of anaerobic sludges (Gregg et al., 1997).

Additional references:

Ettinger MB et al. (1954): The Determination and Persistence of Furfural in River Waters. Proceedings of the eighth industrial waste conference: Purdue Univ Ext Ser.

Gregg C et al. (1997) 2-Furaldehyde: Risk Assessment Document. Pub. HSE Books. P.O.Box 1999. Sudbury. Suffolk. United Kingdom.

Rowe EH & Tullos LFJR (1980). Lube solvents no threat to waste treatment. Hydrocarbon Process 59: 63-65.

Verschueren K (1983) Handbook of environmental data on organic chemicals, 2nd edition, Van Nostrand Reinolds, New York.