Pitting of stainless steels in environments normally regarded as completely harmless is often attributed to microbial activity. In this paper, attention is drawn on one hand to the basic requirements for pitting of stainless steels to be possible, and on the other hand to various ways how microbial activity could contribute to a fulfilment of these requirements. For pit growth to be possible, three basic requirements must be fulfilled: 1) the environment must contain anions that can form an aggressive solution into the pit, 2) there must be a potential difference between the interior of the pit and the open surface outside the pit, 3) the temperature must exceed a critical value. The main factors that normally influence the possibility of pitting are the chloride content and the oxidising power of the environment, presence of anions other than chloride, temperature, possible presence of deposits on the steel surface, and the composition of the steel. Anions other than chloride in the bulk solution, including sulphate, usually have an inhibiting effect. Thiosulphate, however, is known to promote pitting under certain conditions. The possible ways of microbial activity to enhance pitting could include deposit formation leading to crevice type of attack, local modification of the composition of the environment to a more concentrated one, raising the electrode potential of the steel surface (“ennoblement”), or formation of reaction products that permit active dissolution inside a pit at lower potentials. Special attention is drawn to the possible action of thiosulphate by enhancing the anodic reaction at low potentials of the dissolving surface inside the pits.
- stainless steel
- microbiologically influenced corrosion
- microbial activity