Journal article

Analysis of acidity production during enhanced reductive dechlorination using a simplified reactive transport model

Build-up of fermentation products and hydrochloric acid at a contaminated site undergoing enhanced reductive dechlorination can result in groundwater acidification. Sub-optimal pH conditions can inhibit microbial activity and lead to reduced dechlorination rates. The extent of acidification likely to occur is site-specific and depends primarily on the extent of fermentation and dechlorination, the geochemical composition of soil and groundwater, and the pH-sensitivity of the active microbial populations. Here, the key chemical and physical mechanisms that control the extent of groundwater acidification in a contaminated site were examined, and the extent to which the remediation efficiency was affected by variations in groundwater pH was evaluated using a simplified process-based reactive-transport model. This model was applied successfully to a well-documented field site and was then employed in a sensitivity analysis to identify the processes likely to significantly influence acidity production and subsequent microbial inhibition. The accumulation of organic acids produced from the fermentation of the injected substrate was the main cause of the pH change. The concentration of dissolved sulphates controlled substrate-utilization efficiency because sulphate-reducing biomass competed with halo-respiring biomass for the fermentation products. It was shown further that increased groundwater velocity increases dilution and reduces the accumulation of acidic products. As a consequence, the flow rate corresponding to the highest remediation efficiency depends on the fermentation and dechlorination rates. The model enables investigation and forecasting of the extent and areal distribution of pH change, providing a means to optimize the application of reductive dechlorination for site remediation.

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