Biological Limitations of Dechlorination of cis-Dichloroethene during Transport in Porous Media. Academic Article uri icon


  • We applied a mathematical model to data from experimental column studies to understand the dynamics of successful and unsuccessful reductive dechlorination of chlorinated ethenes in groundwater under different flow conditions. In laboratory column experiments (reported previously), it was observed that complete dechlorination of cis-dichloroethene to ethene was sustained at high flow velocity (0.51 m/d), but that dechlorination failed at medium or low flow velocity (0.080 or 0.036 m/d). The mathematical model applied here accounts for transport of chlorinated ethenes in flowing groundwater, mass transfer of chlorinated ethenes between mobile groundwater and stationary biofilms, and diffusion and biodegradation within the biofilms. Monod kinetics with competitive inhibition are used to describe biodegradation. Nearly all parameters needed to solve the model are estimated independently from batch and nonreactive transport experiments. Comparing the model predictions to the experimental results permits the evaluation of three hypothesized biological limitations: insufficient supply of electron donor, decay of dechlorinators' biomass, and reduction in bacterial metabolism rates. Any of these three limitations are able to adequately describe observed experimental data, but insufficient supply of electron donor is the most plausible explanation for failure of dechlorination. Therefore, an important conclusion of this investigation is that insufficient hydrogen production occurs if groundwater flow is too slow to provide adequate flux of electron donor. Model simulations were in good agreement with experimental results for both successful and unsuccessful dechlorination, suggesting the model is a valid tool for describing transport and reductive dechlorination. An implication of our findings is that in engineered or natural bioremediation of chloroethene-contaminated groundwater, not only must the proper dechlorinating organisms be present, but also proper groundwater flow conditions must be maintained or else dechlorination may fail.

published proceedings

  • Environ Sci Technol

altmetric score

  • 11

author list (cited authors)

  • Mendoza-Sanchez, I., Autenrieth, R. L., McDonald, T. J., & Cunningham, J. A.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Mendoza-Sanchez, Itza||Autenrieth, Robin L||McDonald, Thomas J||Cunningham, Jeffrey A

publication date

  • January 2018