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Biotic and abiotic transformation of a volatile organics plume in a semi-arid vadose zone

Biotic and abiotic transformation of a volatile organics plume in a semi-arid vadose zone

International In Situ and On-Site Bioremediation Symposium 5: 89-96

An evaluation of biotic and abiotic attenuation processes potentially important to chlorinated and non-chlorinated volatile organic compound (VOC) fate and transport in the 148 meter thick vadose zone beneath the Chemical Waste Landfill (CWL) was conducted. A unique feature of this evaluation is the comparison of two estimates of VOC mass present in the soil gas, pore-water, and solid phases (but not including mass as non-aqueous phase liquid [NAPL] of the vadose zone in 1993. One estimate, 1,800 kg, was obtained from vadose zone transport modeling that incorporated molecular diffusion and volatilization to the atmosphere, but not biotic or chemical processes. The other estimate, 2,120 kg, was obtained from the sum of VOC mass physically removed during soil vapor extraction and an estimate of VOC mass remaining in the vadose zone in 1998, both adjusted to exclude NAPL mass. This comparison indicates that biogeochemical processes were at best slightly important to historical VOC plume development. Some evidence of aerobic degradation of non-chlorinated VOCs and abiotic transformation of 1,1,1-Trichloroethane was identified. Despite potentially amenable site conditions, no evidence was found of cometabolic and anaerobic transformation pathways. Relying principally on soil-gas analytical results, an upper-bound estimate of 21 percent mass reduction due to natural biogeochemical processes was developed. Although available information for the CWL indicates that natural attenuation processes other than volatilization to the atmosphere did not effectively enhance groundwater protection, these processes could be important in significantly reducing groundwater contamination and exposure risks at other sites. More laboratory and field research is required to improve our collective ability to characterize and exploit natural VOC attenuation processes, especially with respect to the combination of relatively thick and dry vadose zones and chlorinated VOCs.

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