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Modeling Aerobic Biodegradation in the Capillary Fringe

2015-02-03
Luo, Jian
Kurt, Zöhre
Hou, Deyi
Spain, Jim C.
Vapor intrusion from volatile subsurface contaminants can be mitigated by aerobic biodegradation. Laboratory column studies with contaminant sources of chlorobenzene and a mixture of chlorobenzene, 1,2-dichlorobenzene, and 1,4-dichlorobenzene showed that contaminants were rapidly degraded in thin reactive zones with high biomass and low substrate concentrations in the vicinity of the capillary fringe. Such behavior was well characterized by a model that includes oxygen-, substrate-, and biomass-dependent biodegradation kinetics along with diffusive transport processes. An analytical solution was derived to provide theoretical support for the simplification of reaction kinetics and the approximation of reactive zone location and mass flux relationships at steady state. Results demonstrate the potential of aerobic natural attenuation in the capillary fringe for preventing contaminant migration in the unsaturated zone. The solution indicates that increasing contaminant mass flux into the column creates a thinner reactive zone and pushes it toward the oxygen boundary, resulting in a shorter distance to the oxygen source and a larger oxygen mass flux that balances the contaminant mass flux. As a consequence, the aerobic biodegradation can reduce high contaminant concentrations to low levels within the capillary fringe and unsaturated zone. The results are consistent with the observations of thin reactive layers at the interface in unsaturated zones. The model considers biomass while including biodegradation in the capillary fringe and unsaturated zone and clearly demonstrates that microbial communities capable of using the contaminants as electron donors may lead to instantaneous degradation kinetics in the capillary fringe and unsaturated zone.