A series of carbon-14 (14C) radiotracer-based microcosm experiments was conducted to assess the mechanisms and products of degradation of cis-dichloroethene (cis-DCE) and vinyl chloride (VC) in streambed sediments at the U.S. Department of Energy, Kansas City Plant in Kansas City, Missouri. The focus of the investigation was the potential for biotic and abiotic cis-DCE and VC degradation in surficial and underlying hyporheic sediment from the Blue River and its tributaries, Indian Creek and Boone Creek.
Substantial degradation of [1,2-14C] cis-DCE and [1,2-14C] VC to 14C-carbon dioxide (14CO2) was observed in all viable surficial sediment microcosms prepared under oxic conditions. No significant accumulation of reductive dechlorination products was observed under these oxic incubation conditions. The results indicate that microbial mineralization processes involving direct oxidation or co-metabolic oxidation are the primary mechanisms of cis-DCE and VC biodegradation in oxic stream sediment at the Kansas City Plant.
Substantial mineralization of [1,2-14C] VC also was observed in all viable surficial sediment microcosms incubated in the absence of detectable oxygen (dissolved oxygen concentrations less than 25 micrograms per liter). In general, the accumulation of mineralization products (14CO2 and 14C-methane [14CH4]) predominated with only trace-level detection of the reductive dechlorination product, 14C-ethene. In contrast, microbial degradation of [1,2-14C] cis-DCE by reductive dechlorination or mineralization was not significant in the absence of detectable oxygen.
The potential for [1,2-14C] VC biodegradation also was significant in sediments from the deeper hyporheic zones under oxic conditions and in the absence of detectable oxygen. In this study, microbial degradation of [1,2-14C] cis-DCE was not significant in hyporheic sediment treatments under either oxygen condition.
Taken together, the results indicate that microbial mineralization processes in streambed sediments at the Kansas City Plant can be an important component of cis-DCE and VC degradation under oxic conditions and of VC degradation even in the absence of detectable oxygen. These results demonstrate that an evaluation of the efficiency of in situ cis-DCE and VC biodegradation in streambed sediments, based solely on observed accumulations of reduced daughter products, may underestimate substantially the total extent of contaminant biodegradation and, thus, the potential importance of the hyporheic zone and streambed sediments as barriers to the discharge of contaminated groundwater.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Potential for Microbial Degradation of cis-Dichloroethene and Vinyl Chloride in Streambed Sediment at the U.S. Department of Energy, Kansas City Plant, Missouri, 2008