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Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5013

Prepared in cooperation with Department of the Navy, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Northwest

Biodegradation of Chloroethene Compounds in Groundwater at Operable Unit 1, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Keyport, Washington, 1999–2010

By R.S. Dinicola and R.L. Huffman

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (1.8 MB)Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey evaluated the biodegradation of chloroethene compounds in groundwater beneath the former landfill at Operable Unit 1 (OU 1) of the U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), Division Keyport. The predominant contaminants in groundwater are the chloroethene compounds trichloroethene, cis-1,2-dichloroethene, and vinyl chloride. The remedy selected for groundwater contamination at OU 1 includes phytoremediation and natural attenuation. In 1999, the U.S. Navy planted two hybrid poplar plantations, referred to as the northern and southern plantations, over the most contaminated parts of the landfill. The U.S. Navy monitors tree health, groundwater levels, and contaminant concentrations to assess the effectiveness of phytoremediation. The U.S. Geological Survey began a cooperative effort with the U.S. Navy in 1995 to monitor the effectiveness of natural attenuation processes for removing and controlling the migration of chloroethenes and chloroethanes. Field and laboratory studies from 1996 through 2000 demonstrated that biodegradation of chloroethenes and chloroethanes in shallow groundwater at OU 1 was substantial. The U.S. Geological Survey monitored geochemical and contaminant concentrations in groundwater annually from 2001 through 2010. This report presents groundwater geochemical and contaminant data collected by the U.S. Geological Survey during June 2010 and evaluates evidence for continued biodegradation of chloroethenes in groundwater.

Geochemical and contaminant concentration data through 2010 indicate that biodegradation of chloroethenes in groundwater continued beneath the landfill at OU 1. Contaminant concentrations in groundwater decreased beneath most of the 9-acre landfill between 1999 and 2010. The evidence indicating that biodegradation was a primary cause for the decreased concentrations included decreasing ratios of more highly chlorinated compounds to less chlorinated compounds over time, and widespread detections of non-chlorinated biodegradation end-products ethane and ethene. No widespread changes in groundwater reduction-oxidation (redox) conditions were observed that could result in either more or less efficient biodegradation.

Even with continued biodegradation, dissolved-phase contaminant concentrations in the tens of milligrams per liter have persisted beneath part of the 0.7-acre southern plantation. The magnitude and persistence of those concentrations indicate that non-aqueous phase liquid chloroethenes likely are present beneath the southern plantation and are not substantially affected by biodegradation. During 2010, chloroethenes continued to be measured in shallow groundwater samples from the southern part of the adjacent marsh, although at the lowest concentrations ever measured.

Flux calculations based on 2010 data indicate that 95 percent of dissolved-phase chloroethenes in the upper aquifer beneath the southern landfill were degraded before discharging to surface water. Overall, biodegradation of chloroethenes in groundwater throughout OU 1 continued through 2010, and it prevented most of the mass of dissolved-phase chloroethenes in the upper aquifer beneath the landfill from discharging to surface water.

First posted February 21, 2012

For additional information contact:
Director, Washington Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
934 Broadway, Suite 300
Tacoma, Washington 98402

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Suggested citation:

Dinicola, R.S., and Huffman, R.L., 2012, Biodegradation of chloroethene compounds in groundwater at Operable Unit 1, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Keyport, Washington, 1999–2010: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5013, 56 p.




Methods of Sample Collection and Analysis

Evaluation of Biodegradation

Chloroethene Concentration Trends and Biodegradation

Chloroethene Mass Degradation Rates and Discharge to Surface Water

Summary and Conclusions


References Cited

Appendix A. Quality Assurance and Control of U.S. Geological Survey 2010 Geochemical Sampling

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