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Technical, economical and social aspects of moving treatability studies for in situ bioremediation of contaminated aquifers from the laboratory to the field

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This dissertation explores the use of bench-scale batch microcosms in remedial design of contaminated aquifers, presents an alternative methodology for conducting such treatability studies, and - from technical, economical, and social perspectives - examines real-world application of this new technology.

This dissertation explores the use of bench-scale batch microcosms in remedial design of contaminated aquifers, presents an alternative methodology for conducting such treatability studies, and - from technical, economical, and social perspectives - examines real-world application of this new technology. In situ bioremediation (ISB) is an effective remedial approach for many contaminated groundwater sites. However, site-specific variability necessitates the performance of small-scale treatability studies prior to full-scale implementation. The most common methodology is the batch microcosm, whose potential limitations and suitable technical alternatives are explored in this thesis. In a critical literature review, I discuss how continuous-flow conditions stimulate microbial attachment and biofilm formation, and identify unique microbiological phenomena largely absent in batch bottles, yet potentially relevant to contaminant fate. Following up on this theoretical evaluation, I experimentally produce pyrosequencing data and perform beta diversity analysis to demonstrate that batch and continuous-flow (column) microcosms foster distinctly different microbial communities. Next, I introduce the In Situ Microcosm Array (ISMA), which took approximately two years to design, develop, build and iteratively improve. The ISMA can be deployed down-hole in groundwater monitoring wells of contaminated aquifers for the purpose of autonomously conducting multiple parallel continuous-flow treatability experiments. The ISMA stores all sample generated in the course of each experiment, thereby preventing the release of chemicals into the environment. Detailed results are presented from an ISMA demonstration evaluating ISB for the treatment of hexavalent chromium and trichloroethene. In a technical and economical comparison to batch microcosms, I demonstrate the ISMA is both effective in informing remedial design decisions and cost-competitive. Finally, I report on a participatory technology assessment (pTA) workshop attended by diverse stakeholders of the Phoenix 52nd Street Superfund Site evaluating the ISMA's ability for addressing a real-world problem. In addition to receiving valuable feedback on perceived ISMA limitations, I conclude from the workshop that pTA can facilitate mutual learning even among entrenched stakeholders. In summary, my doctoral research (i) pinpointed limitations of current remedial design approaches, (ii) produced a novel alternative approach, and (iii) demonstrated the technical, economical and social value of this novel remedial design tool, i.e., the In Situ Microcosm Array technology.

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2013

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A new approach to groundwater remediation treatability studies: moving flow-through column experiments from laboratory to in situ operation

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In situ remediation of contaminated aquifers, specifically in situ bioremediation (ISB), has gained popularity over pump-and-treat operations. It represents a more sustainable approach that can also achieve complete mineralization of contaminants in the subsurface. However, the subsurface reality is very

In situ remediation of contaminated aquifers, specifically in situ bioremediation (ISB), has gained popularity over pump-and-treat operations. It represents a more sustainable approach that can also achieve complete mineralization of contaminants in the subsurface. However, the subsurface reality is very complex, characterized by hydrodynamic groundwater movement, geological heterogeneity, and mass-transfer phenomena governing contaminant transport and bioavailability. These phenomena cannot be properly studied using commonly conducted laboratory batch microcosms lacking realistic representation of the processes named above. Instead, relevant processes are better understood by using flow-through systems (sediment columns). However, flow-through column studies are typically conducted without replicates. Due to additional sources of variability (e.g., flow rate variation between columns and over time), column studies are expected to be less reproducible than simple batch microcosms. This was assessed through a comprehensive statistical analysis of results from multiple batch and column studies. Anaerobic microbial biotransformations of trichloroethene and of perchlorate were chosen as case studies. Results revealed that no statistically significant differences were found between reproducibility of batch and column studies. It has further been recognized that laboratory studies cannot accurately reproduce many phenomena encountered in the field. To overcome this limitation, a down-hole diagnostic device (in situ microcosm array - ISMA) was developed, that enables the autonomous operation of replicate flow-through sediment columns in a realistic aquifer setting. Computer-aided design (CAD), rapid prototyping, and computer numerical control (CNC) machining were used to create a tubular device enabling practitioners to conduct conventional sediment column studies in situ. A case study where two remediation strategies, monitored natural attenuation and bioaugmentation with concomitant biostimulation, were evaluated in the laboratory and in situ at a perchlorate-contaminated site. Findings demonstrate the feasibility of evaluating anaerobic bioremediation in a moderately aerobic aquifer. They further highlight the possibility of mimicking in situ remediation strategies on the small-scale in situ. The ISMA is the first device offering autonomous in situ operation of conventional flow-through sediment microcosms and producing statistically significant data through the use of multiple replicates. With its sustainable approach to treatability testing and data gathering, the ISMA represents a versatile addition to the toolbox of scientists and engineers.

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2013

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Trade-offs in utilizing of zero-valent iron for synergistic biotic and abiotic reduction of trichloroethene and perchlorate in soil and groundwater

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The advantages and challenges of combining zero-valent iron (ZVI) and microbial reduction of trichloroethene (TCE) and perchlorate (ClO4-) in contaminated soil and groundwater are not well understood. The objective of this work was to identify the benefits and limitations of

The advantages and challenges of combining zero-valent iron (ZVI) and microbial reduction of trichloroethene (TCE) and perchlorate (ClO4-) in contaminated soil and groundwater are not well understood. The objective of this work was to identify the benefits and limitations of simultaneous application of ZVI and bioaugmentation for detoxification of TCE and ClO4- using conditions relevant to a specific contaminated site. We studied conditions representing a ZVI-injection zone and a downstream zone influenced Fe (II) produced, for simultaneous ZVI and microbial reductive dechlorination applications using bench scale semi-batch microcosm experiments. 16.5 g L-1 ZVI effectively reduced TCE to ethene and ethane but ClO4- was barely reduced. Microbial reductive dechlorination was limited by both ZVI as well as Fe (II) derived from oxidation of ZVI. In the case of TCE, rapid abiotic TCE reduction made the TCE unavailable for the dechlorinating bacteria. In the case of perchlorate, ZVI inhibited the indigenous perchlorate-reducing bacteria present in the soil and groundwater. Further, H2 generated by ZVI reactions stimulated competing microbial processes like sulfate reduction and methanogenesis. In the microcosms representing the ZVI downstream zone (Fe (II) only), we detected accumulation of cis-dichloroethene (cis-DCE) and vinyl chloride (VC) after 56 days. Some ethene also formed under these conditions. In the absence of ZVI or Fe (II), we detected complete TCE dechlorination to ethene and faster rates of ClO4- reduction. The results illustrate potential limitations of combining ZVI with microbial reduction of chlorinated compounds and show the potential that each technology has when applied separately.

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2017

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Synergistic reductive dechlorination of 1,1,1-trichloroethane and trichloroethene and aerobic degradation of 1,4-dioxane

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Widespread use of chlorinated solvents for commercial and industrial purposes makes co-occurring contamination by 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA), trichloroethene (TCE), and 1,4-dioxane (1,4-D) a serious problem for groundwater. TCE and TCA often are treated by reductive dechlorination, while 1,4-D resists reductive

Widespread use of chlorinated solvents for commercial and industrial purposes makes co-occurring contamination by 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA), trichloroethene (TCE), and 1,4-dioxane (1,4-D) a serious problem for groundwater. TCE and TCA often are treated by reductive dechlorination, while 1,4-D resists reductive treatment. Aerobic bacteria are able to oxidize 1,4-D, but the biological oxidation of 1,4-D could be inhibited TCA, TCE, and their reductive transformation products. To overcome the challenges from co-occurring contamination, I propose a two-stage synergistic system. First, anaerobic reduction of the chlorinated hydrocarbons takes place in a H2-based hollow-fiber “X-film” (biofilm or catalyst-coated film) reactor (MXfR), where “X-film” can be a “bio-film” (MBfR) or an abiotic “palladium-film” (MPfR). Then, aerobic removal of 1,4-D and other organic compounds takes place in an O2-based MBfR. For the reductive part, I tested reductive bio-dechlorination of TCA and TCE simultaneously in an MBfR. I found that the community of anaerobic bacteria can rapidly reduce TCE to cis-dichloroethene (cis-DCE), but further reductions of cis-DCE to vinyl chloride (VC) and VC to ethene were inhibited by TCA. Also, it took months to grow a strong biofilm that could reduce TCA and TCE. Another problem with reductive dechlorination in the MBfR is that mono-chloroethane (MCA) was not reduced to ethane. In contrast, a film of palladium nano-particles (PdNPs), i.e., an MPfR, could the simultaneous reductions of TCA and TCE to mainly ethane, with only small amounts of intermediates: 1,1-dichloroethane (DCA) (~3% of total influent TCA and TCE) and MCA (~1%) in continuous operation. For aerobic oxidation, I enriched an ethanotrophic culture that could oxidize 1,4-D with ethane as the primary electron donor. An O2-based MBfR, inoculated with the enriched ethanotrophic culture, achieved over 99% 1,4-D removal with ethane as the primary electron donor in continuous operation. Finally, I evaluated two-stage treatment with a H2-based MPfR followed by an O2-MBfR. The two-stage system gave complete removal of TCA, TCE, and 1,4-D in continuous operation.

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2018

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Methods and devices for evaluating environmental remediation progress and population health

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This dissertation critically evaluated methodologies and devices for assessing and protecting the health of human populations, with particular emphasis on groundwater remediation and the use of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) to inform population health. A meta-analysis and assessment of laboratory-scale treatability

This dissertation critically evaluated methodologies and devices for assessing and protecting the health of human populations, with particular emphasis on groundwater remediation and the use of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) to inform population health. A meta-analysis and assessment of laboratory-scale treatability studies for removing chlorinated solvents from groundwater found that sediment microcosms operated as continuous-flow columns are preferable to batch bottles when seeking to emulate with high fidelity the complex conditions prevailing in the subsurface in contaminated aquifers (Chapter 2). Compared to monitoring at the field-scale, use of column microcosms also showed (i) improved chemical speciation, and (ii) qualitative predictability of field parameters (Chapter 3). Monitoring of glucocorticoid hormones in wastewater of a university campus showed (i) elevated stress levels particularly at the start of the semester, (ii) on weekdays relative to weekend days (p = 0.05) (161 ± 42 μg d-1 per person, 122 ± 54 μg d-1 per person; p ≤ 0.05), and (iii) a positive association between levels of stress hormones and nicotine (rs: 0.49) and caffeine (0.63) consumption in this student population (Chapter 4). Also, (i) alcohol consumption determined by WBE was in line with literature estimates for this young sub-population (11.3 ± 7.5 g d-1 per person vs. 10.1 ± 0.8 g d-1 per person), whereas caffeine and nicotine uses were below (114 ± 49 g d-1 per person, 178 ± 19 g d-1 per person; 627 ± 219 g d-1 per person, 927 ± 243 g d-1 per person). The introduction of a novel continuous in situ sampler to WBE brought noted benefits relative to traditional time-integrated sampling, including (i) a higher sample coverage (93% vs. 3%), (ii) an ability to captured short-term analyte pulses (e.g., heroin, fentanyl, norbuprenorphine, and methadone), and (iii) an overall higher mass capture for drugs of abuse like morphine, fentanyl, methamphetamine, amphetamine, and the opioid antagonist metabolite norbuprenorphine (p ≤ 0.01). Methods and devices developed in this work are poised to find applications in the remediation sector and in human health assessments.

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2018