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Chlorinated ethene plume evolution after source thermal remediation: Determination of degradation rates and mechanisms

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Murray Alexandra Marie, Ottosen Cecilie B., Maillard Julien, Holliger Christof, Johansen Anders, Brabæk Lærke, Kristensen Inge Lise, Zimmermann Jeremy, Hunkeler Daniel, Broholm Mette M.,
Project Tracking reactive processes in low permeability sediments and their effect on contaminant longevity in aquifers using compound-specific isotope analysis
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Contaminant Hydrology
Volume (Issue) 227
Page(s) 103551 - 103551
Title of proceedings Journal of Contaminant Hydrology
DOI 10.1016/j.jconhyd.2019.103551

Open Access

Type of Open Access Green OA Embargo (Freely available via Repository after an embargo)


The extent, mechanism(s), and rate of chlorinated ethene degradation in a large tetrachloroethene (PCE) plume were investigated in an extensive sampling campaign. Multiple lines of evidence for this degradation were explored, including compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA), dual C-Cl isotope analysis, and quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) analysis targeting the genera Dehalococcoides and Dehalogenimonas and the genes vcrA, bvcA, and cerA. A decade prior to this sampling campaign, the plume source was thermally remediated by steam injection. This released dissolved organic carbon (DOC) that stimulated microbial activity and created reduced conditions within the plume. Based on an inclusive analysis of minor and major sampling campaigns since the initial site characterization, it was estimated that reduced conditions peaked 4 years after the remediation event. At the time of this study, 11 years after the remediation event, the redox conditions in the aquifer are returning to their original state. However, the DOC released from the remediated source zone matches levels measured 3 years prior and plume conditions are still suitable for biotic reductive dechlorination. Dehalococcoides spp., Dehalogenimonas spp., and vcrA, bvcA, and cerA reductive dehalogenase genes were detected close to the source, and suggest that complete, biotic PCE degradation occurs here. Further downgradient, qPCR analysis and enriched δ13C values for cis-dichloroethene (cDCE) suggest that cDCE is biodegraded in a sulfate-reducing zone in the plume. In the most downgradient portion of the plume, lower levels of specific degraders supported by dual C-Cl analysis indicate that the biodegradation occurs in combination with abiotic degradation. Additionally, 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing shows that organizational taxonomic units known to contain organohalide-respiring bacteria are relatively abundant throughout the plume. Hydraulic conductivity testing was also conducted, and local degradation rates for PCE and cDCE were determined at various locations throughout the plume. PCE degradation rates from sampling campaigns after the thermal remediation event range from 0.11 to 0.35 yr−1. PCE and cDCE degradation rates from the second to the third sampling campaigns ranged from 0.08 to 0.10 yr−1 and 0.01 to 0.07 yr−1, respectively. This is consistent with cDCE as the dominant daughter product in the majority of the plume and cDCE degradation as the time-limiting step. The extensive temporal and spatial analysis allowed for tracking the evolution of the plume and the lasting impact of the source remediation and illustrates that the multiple lines of evidence approach is essential to elucidate the primary degradation mechanisms in a plume of such size and complexity.