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Natural Attenuation of Trichloroethylene in Fractured Shale Bedrock
Journal of Contaminant Hydrology (2003)
  • M. Lenczewski, University of Tennessee - Knoxville
  • P. Jardine, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Larry McKay, University of Tennessee - Knoxville
  • A. Layton, University of Tennessee - Knoxville
This paper describes one of the first well-documented field examples of natural attenuation of trichloroethylene (TCE) in groundwater in a fractured shale bedrock. The study was carried out adjacent to a former waste burial site in Waste Area Grouping 5 (WAG5) on the Oak Ridge Reservation, Oak Ridge, TN. A contaminant plume containing TCE and its daughter products were detected downgradient from the buried waste pits, with most of the contamination occurring in the upper 6 m of the bedrock. The monitoring well array consists of a 35-m-long transect of multilevel sampling wells, situated along a line between the waste pits and a seep which discharges into a small stream. Concentrations of volatile organic carbons (VOCs) were highest in the waste trenches and decreased with distance downgradient towards the seep. Sampling wells indicated the presence of overlapping plumes of TCE, cis-dichloroethylene (cDCE), vinyl chloride (VC), ethylene, ethane, and methane, with the daughter products extending further downgradient than the parent (TCE). This type of distribution suggests anaerobic biodegradation. Measurements of redox potential at the site indicated that iron-reduction, sulfate reduction, and potentially methanogensis were occurring and are conducive to dechlorination of TCE. Bacteria enrichment of groundwater samples revealed the presence of methanotrophs, methanogens, iron-reducing bacteria and sulfate-reducing bacteria, all of which have previously been implicated in anaerobic biodegradation of TCE. 16S rDNA sequence from DNA extracted from two wells were similar to sequences of organisms previously implicated in the anaerobic biodegradation of chlorinated solvents. The combined data strongly suggest that anaerobic biodegradation of the highly chlorinated compounds is occurring. Aerobic biodegradation may also be occurring in oxygenated zones, including near a seep where groundwater exits the site, or in the upper bedrock during seasonal fluctuations in water table elevation and oxygen levels.
  • Trichloroethylene; Biodegradation; Fractured shale bedrock; Natural attenuation
Publication Date
July, 2003
Citation Information
M. Lenczewski, P. Jardine, Larry McKay and A. Layton. "Natural Attenuation of Trichloroethylene in Fractured Shale Bedrock" Journal of Contaminant Hydrology Vol. 64 Iss. 3-4 (2003)
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