Quantification of in Situ Biodegradation Rate Constants Using a Novel Combined Isotope Approach

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Philipp Blum, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Institute for Applied Geosciences, Karlsruhe, Germany, Jürgen Sültenfuß, University of Bremen, Institute of Environmental Physics, Bremen, Germany and Peter Martus, HPC AG, Kriftel, Germany
Numerous studies have shown the enormous potential of the compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA) for studying the biodegradation of organic compounds such as monoaromatic hydrocarbons (BTEX), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), chlorinated solvents and other organic contaminants and environmental transformation mechanisms in groundwater. In addition, two-dimensional isotope analysis such as carbon and hydrogen have been successfully studied indicating the potential to also investigate site-specific reaction mechanisms. The main objective of the current study however is to quantify real effective in situ biodegradation rate constants in a coal-tar contaminated aquifer by combining compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA) and tracer-based (3H-3He) ground-water dating (TGD). Hence, groundwater samples are used to determine groundwater residence times, and carbon and hydrogen stable isotopes are analyzed for selected BTEX and PAH. The results of the hydrogen stable isotopes surprisingly indicate no isotope fractionation and therefore no biodegradation. In contrast, for stable carbon isotopes of selected BTEX such as o-xylene and toluene, isotope shifts are detected indicating active biodegradation under sulfate-reducing conditions. These and previous results of stable carbon isotopes show that only for o-xylene a clear evidence for biodegradation is possible for the studied site. Nevertheless, in combining these results with the groundwater residence times, which range between 1 year for the shallow wells (20 m below surface) and 41 years for the deeper wells (40 m below surface), it is feasible to effectively determine in situ biodegradation rate constants for o-xylene. Conversely, the outcome also evidently demonstrate the major limitations of the novel combined isotope approach for a successful implementation of monitored natural attenuation (MNA) at such field sites.