Field evidence collected along two groundwater flow paths shows that anaerobic biodegradation naturally attenuates a plume of chlorinated volatile organic compounds as it discharges from an aerobic sand aquifer through wetland sediments. A decrease in concentrations of two parent contaminants, trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane (PCA), and a concomitant increase in concentrations of anaerobic daughter products occurs along upward flow paths through the Wetland sediments. The daughter products 1,2-dichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, 1,1,2-trichloroethane, and 1,2-dichloroethane are produced from hydrogenolysis of TCE and from PCA degradation through hydrogenolysis and dichloroelimination (reductive dechlorination) pathways. Total concentrations of TCE, PCA, and their degradation products, however, decrease to below detection levels within 0.15-0.30 m of land surface. The enhanced reductive dechlorination of TCE and PCA in the wetland sediments is associated with the naturally higher concentrations of dissolved organic carbon and the lower redox state of the groundwater compared to the aquifer. This field study indicates that wetlands and similar organic-rich environments at groundwater/surface-water interfaces may be important in intercepting groundwater contaminated with chlorinated organics and in naturally reducing concentrations and toxicity before sensitive surface-water receptors are reached.
Additional publication details
Natural attenuation of chlorinated volatile organic compounds in a freshwater tidal wetland: Field evidence of anaerobic biodegradation