Assessment of chlorinated ethenes degradation after field scale injection of activated carbon and bioamendments: Application of isotopic and microbial analyses
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Over the last decade, activated carbon amendments have successfully been applied to retain chlorinated ethene subsurface contamination. The concept of this remediation technology is that activated carbon and bioamendments are injected into aquifer systems to enhance biodegradation. While the scientific basis of the technology is established, there is a need for methods to characterise and quantify the biodegradation at field scale. In this study, an integrated approach was applied to assess in situ biodegradation after the establishment of a cross sectional treatment zone in a TCE plume. The amendments were liquid activated carbon, hydrogen release donors and a Dehalococcoides containing culture. The integrated approach included spatial and temporal evaluations on flow and transport, redox conditions, contaminant concentrations, biomarker abundance and compound-specific stable isotopes. This is the first study applying isotopic and microbial techniques to assess field scale biodegradation enhanced by liquid activated carbon and bioamendments. The injection enhanced biodegradation from TCE to primarily cis-DCE. The Dehalococcoides abundances facilitated characterisation of critical zones with insufficient degradation and possible explanations. A conceptual model of isotopic data together with distribution and transport information improved process understanding; the degradation of TCE was insufficient to counteract the contaminant input by inflow into the treatment zone and desorption from the sediment. The integrated approach could be used to document and characterise the in situ degradation, and the isotopic and microbial data provided process understanding that could not have been gathered from conventional monitoring tools. However, quantification of degradation through isotope data was restricted for TCE due to isotope masking effects. The combination of various monitoring tools, applied frequently at high-resolution, with system understanding, was essential for the assessment of biodegradation in the complex, non-stationary system. Furthermore, the investigations revealed prospects for future research, which should focus on monitoring contaminant fate and microbial distribution on the sediment and the activated carbon.