Mass transfer of organic contaminants from nonaqueous phase liquids to the aqueous phase can significantly modulate the observable carbon isotope fractionation behavior associated with contaminant transformation. We evaluated the effects of kinetic interphase mass transfer between tetradecane and water on the observable (13)C enrichment factor, (obs), pertinent to the reductive dechlorination of trichloroethene (TCE) by Sulfurospirillum sp. in laboratory batch model systems containing organic, aqueous and gaseous phases. We propose a conceptual model, which includes the kinetics of tetradecane-water and gas-water mass transfer, microbial growth, and isotope-sensitive parameters describing dehalorespiration, for quantifying variable (13)C enrichment factors. While the C isotope fractionation of TCE reduction to cis-dichloroethene (cDCE) in the absence of phase-transfer effects can be characterized by a constant -value of -18.8 +/- 0.6 per thousand, mass-transfer limitations impede describing this process with a constant enrichment factor typically used in Rayleigh equations. Owing to the masking of kinetic isotope effects by the transfer of TCE from tetradecane to the aqueous phase, (obs)-values gradually changed from -18.4 per thousand to -5.9 per thousand. Such variations may complicate the interpretation of compound-specific isotope analysis in the assessment of chloroethene biodegradation in field applications.