Laboratory studies conducted with surface water sediment from a methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE)-contaminated site in South Carolina demonstrated that, under methanogenic conditions, [U-14C] MTBE was transformed to 14C tert-butyl alcohol (TBA) with no measurable production of 14CO2. Production of TBA was not attributed to the activity of methanogenic microorganisms, however, because comparable transformation of [U-14C] MTBE to 14C-TBA also was observed in heat-sterilized controls with dissolved H2 concentrations > 5 nM. The results suggest that the transformation of MTBE to TBA may be an abiotic process that is driven by biologically produced H2 under in situ conditions. In contrast, mineralization of [U-14C] MTBE to 14CO2 was completely inhibited by heat sterilization and only observed in treatments characterized by dissolved H2 concentrations < 2 nM. These results suggest that the pathway of MTBE transformation is influenced by in situ H2 concentrations and that in situ H2 concentrations may be an useful indicator of MTBE transformation pathways in ground water systems.
Additional publication details
Effect of H2 and redox condition on biotic and abiotic MTBE transformation