The chloroethenes, tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) are among the most common contaminants detected in groundwater systems. As recently as 1980, the consensus was that chloroethene compounds were not significantly biodegradable in groundwater. Consequently, efforts to remediate chloroethene-contaminated groundwater were limited to largely unsuccessful pump-and-treat attempts. Subsequent investigation revealed that under reducing conditions, aquifer microorganisms can reductively dechlorinate PCE and TCE to the less chlorinated daughter products dichloroethene (DCE) and vinyl chloride (VC). Although recent laboratory studies conducted with halorespiring microorganisms suggest that complete reduction to ethene is possible, in the majority of groundwater systems reductive dechlorination apparently stops at DCE or VC. However, recent investigations conducted with aquifer and stream-bed sediments have demonstrated that microbial oxidation of these reduced daughter products can be significant under anaerobic redox conditions. The combination of reductive dechlorination of PCE and TCE under anaerobic conditions followed by anaerobic microbial oxidation of DCE and VC provides a possible microbial pathway for complete degradation of chloroethene contaminants in groundwater systems.
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