The biodegradation pathways of 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane (TeCA) and 1,1,2-trichloroethane (112TCA) and the associated microbial communities in anaerobic wetland sediments were evaluated using concurrent geochemical and genetic analyses over time in laboratory microcosm experiments. Experimental results were compared to in situ porewater data in the wetland to better understand the factors controlling daughter product distributions in a chlorinated solvent plume discharging to a freshwater tidal wetland at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Microcosms constructed with wetland sediment from two sites showed little difference in the initial degradation steps of TeCA, which included simultaneous hydrogenolysis to 112TCA and dichloroelimination to 1,2-dichloroethene (12DCE). The microcosms from the two sites showed a substantial difference, however, in the relative dominance of subsequent dichloroelimination of 112TCA. A greater dominance of 112TCA dichloroelimination in microcosms constructed with sediment that was initially iron-reducing and subsequently simultaneously iron-reducing and methanogenic caused approximately twice as much vinyl chloride (VC) production as microcosms constructed with sediment that was methanogenic only throughout the incubation. The microcosms with higher VC production also showed substantially more rapid VC degradation. Field measurements of redox-sensitive constituents, TeCA, and its anaerobic degradation products along flowpaths in the wetland porewater also showed greater production and degradation of VC with concurrent methanogenesis and iron reduction. Molecular fingerprinting indicated that bacterial species [represented by a peak at a fragment size of 198 base pairs (bp) by MnlI digest] are associated with VC production from 112TCA dichloroelimination, whereas methanogens (190 and 307 bp) from the Methanococcales or Methanobacteriales family are associated with VC production from 12DCE hydrogenolysis. Acetate-utilizing methanogens (acetotrophs) appear to be involved in the biodegradation of VC. The relative abundance of Methanosarcinaceae, the only methanogen group with acetotrophic members, doubled in microcosms in which degradation of VC was observed. In addition, molecular analyses using primers specific for known dehalorespiring bacteria in the Dehalococcoides and Desulfuromonas groups showed the presence of these bacteria in microcosm slurry from the site that showed the highest VC production and degradation. Determination of biogeochemical controls and microbial consortia involved in TeCA degradation is leading to a better understanding of the heterogeneity in biodegradation rates and daughter product distribution in the wetland, improving capabilities for developing remediation and monitoring plans.
Additional publication details
Degradation of 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane and accumulation of vinyl chloride in wetland sediment microcosms and in situ porewater: Biogeochemical controls and associations with microbial communities