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Identification of Degradation Pathways of Chlorohydrocarbons in Saturated Low-Permeability Sediments Using Compound-Specific Isotope Analysis

Wanner, Philipp, Parker, Beth L., Chapman, Steven W., Lima, Glaucia, Gilmore, Adam, Mack, E. Erin, Aravena, Ramon
Environmental science & technology 2018 v.52 no.13 pp. 7296-7306
aquifers, carbon, carbon tetrachloride, chloroform, environmental fate, isotopes, mathematical models, methylene chloride, microorganisms, prediction, sediments
This study aims to investigate whether compound-specific carbon isotope analysis (CSIA) can be used to differentiate the degradation pathways of chlorohydrocarbons in saturated low-permeability sediments. For that purpose, a site was selected, where a complex mixture of chlorohydrocarbons contaminated an aquifer–aquitard system. Almost 50 years after contaminant releases, high-resolution concentration, CSIA, and microbial profiles were determined. The CSIA profiles showed that in the aquitard cis-dichloroethene (cDCE), first considered as a degradation product of trichloroethene (TCE), is produced by the dichloroelimination of 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane (TeCA). In contrast, TeCA degrades to TCE via dehydrohalogenation in the aquifer, indicating that the aquifer–aquitard interface separates two different degradation pathways for TeCA. Moreover, the CSIA profiles showed that chloroform (CF) is degraded to dichloromethane (DCM) via hydrogenolysis in the aquitard and, to a minor degree, produced by the degradation of carbon tetrachloride (CT). Several microorganisms capable of degrading chlorohydrocarbons were detected in the aquitard, suggesting that aquitard degradation is microbially mediated. Furthermore, numerical simulations reproduced the aquitard concentration and CSIA profiles well, which allowed the determination of degradation rates for each transformation pathway. This improves the prediction of contaminant fate in the aquitard and potential magnitude of impacts on the adjacent aquifer due to back-diffusion.