Alkaline hydrolysis has been investigated as a nonbiological procedure for the destruction of 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT) in explosives contaminated soils and munitions scrap. Nucleophilic substitutions of the nitro and methyl groups of TNT by hydroxide ion are the initial steps in the alkaline degradation of TNT. Potential applications of the technique include both in situ surface liming and ex situ alkaline treatment of contaminated soils. A number of laboratory studies have reported the formation of an uncharacterized polymeric material upon prolonged treatment of TNT in base. As part of an overall assessment of alkaline hydrolysis as a remediation technique, and to gain a better understanding of the chemical reactions underlying the hydrolysis/polymerization process, the soluble and precipitate fractions of polymeric material produced from the calcium hydroxide hydrolysis of unlabeled and 15N-labeled TNT were analyzed by elemental analysis and 13C and 15N nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Spectra indicated that reactions leading to polymerization included nucleophilic displacement of nitro groups by hydroxide ion, formation of ketone, carboxyl, alcohol, ether, and other aliphatic carbons, conversion of methyl groups to diphenyl methylene carbons, and recondensation of aromatic amines and reduced forms of nitrite, including ammonia and possibly hydroxylamine, into the polymer. Compared to the distribution of carbons in TNT as 14% sp 3- and 86% sp2-hybridized, the precipitate fraction from hydrolysis of unlabeled TNT contained 33% sp3- and 67% sp 2-hybridized carbons. The concentration of nitrogen in the precipitate was 64% of that in TNT. The 15N NMR spectra showed that, in addition to residual nitro groups, forms of nitrogen present in the filtrate and precipitate fractions include aminohydroquinone, primary amide, indole, imine, and azoxy, among others. Unreacted nitrite was recovered in the filtrate fraction. The toxicities and susceptibilities to microbial or chemical degradation of the polymeric materials remain unknown.
Additional publication details
Alkaline Hydrolysis/Polymerization of 2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene: Characterization of Products by 13C and 15N NMR