Chlorinated ethenes are commonly found in contaminated groundwater. Remediation strategies focus on transformation processes that will ultimately lead to nontoxic products. A major concern with these strategies is the possibility of incomplete dechlorination and accumulation of toxic daughter products (cis-1,2-dichloroethene (cDCE), vinyl chloride (VC)). Ethene mass balance can be used as a direct indicator to assess the effectiveness of dechlorination. However, the microbial processes that affect ethene are not well characterized and poor mass balance may reflect biotransformation of ethene rather than incomplete dechlorination. Microbial degradation of ethene is commonly observed in aerobic systems but fewer cases have been reported in anaerobic systems. Limited information is available on the isotope enrichment factors associated with these processes. Using compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA) we determined the enrichment factors associated with microbial degradation of ethene in anaerobic microcosms (ε = −6.7‰ ± 0.4‰, and −4.0‰ ± 0.8‰) from cultures collected from the Twin Lakes wetland area at the Savannah River site in Georgia (United States), and in aerobic microcosms (ε = −3.0‰ ± 0.3‰) from Mycobacterium sp. strain JS60. Under anaerobic and aerobic conditions, CSIA can be used to determine whether biotransformation of ethene is occurring in addition to biodegradation of the chlorinated ethenes. Using δ13C values determined for ethene and for chlorinated ethenes at a contaminated field site undergoing bioremediation, this study demonstrates how CSIA of ethene can be used to reduce uncertainty and risk at a site by distinguishing between actual mass balance deficits during reductive dechlorination and apparent lack of mass balance that is related to biotransformation of ethene.
Additional publication details
Monitoring biodegradation of ethene and bioremediation of chlorinated ethenes at a contaminated site using compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA)