Application of two dimensional compound specific carbon-chlorine isotope analyses for degradation monitoring and assessment of organic pollutants in contaminated soil and groundwater

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Applied Environmental Science (ITM), Stockholm University

Abstract: Nearly 250,000 sites with past and present potentially polluting activities need urgent remediation within Europe. Major pollutants include organochlorines (OCls), e.g. chlorinated ethenes (CEs) and hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs), mainly used as industrial solvents and pesticides, respectively. Due to improper handling and disposal, OCls contaminants are present in the soil or groundwater surrounding sites, where they have been produced or used. CEs and HCHs can undergo degradation by microorganisms indigenous to the soil or groundwater. Therefore natural attenuation (NA), relying on the in situ biodegradation of pollutants, is considered as a cost effective remediation strategy, yet it requires accurate monitoring methods. Compound specific isotope analysis (CSIA) is a powerful tool to provide information on the extent of degradation and, when combining two isotope systems (2D-CSIA), such as carbon (?13C) and chlorine (?37Cl), on reaction mechanisms.The diagnostic reaction-specific isotope enrichment factors (?C and ?Cl) were determined in laboratory experiments for the anaerobic degradation of PCE, TCE (Paper II) and ?-HCH (Paper III) by mixed bacterial cultures enriched from CEs and HCHs contaminated sites, respectively. The related mechanism-specific ?Cl/?C ratios were calculated as 0.35 ± 0.11 (PCE), 0.37 ± 0.11 (TCE) and 0.52 ± 0.23 (?-HCH). These values are smaller than previously reported values for pure cultures. This is explained by the microbial community composition changes observed during degradation of PCE and ?-HCH, which also reflect the variability of the microbial community at the field level. Furthermore, ?Cl/?C ratio might be bacteria specific.These values allowed the estimation of the extent of contaminant degradation at the respective study sites (Paper III and IV). Application of both isotope systems (?13C and ?37Cl) led to comparable estimates. However the choice of representative ? values is crucial for an accurate assessment.These studies show that CSIA is useful to quantify in situ degradation of OCls contaminants and identify reaction pathways, by combining ?13C and ?37Cl.