Potential for co-metabolic oxidation of TCE and evidence for its occurrence in a large-scale aquifer survey

Water Res. 2020 Mar 15;171:115431. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2019.115431. Epub 2019 Dec 23.


Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a groundwater pollutant that is prevalent worldwide. In contaminated groundwater, TCE can be biodegraded following either reductive dechlorination or aerobic co-metabolic oxidation. However, since the co-metabolic process is not accompanied by indicative and easily detectable transformation products, little is known about its prominence in the environment. To estimate the environmental importance of the oxidative process, a regional groundwater survey was conducted. In this survey, polluted water from 100 wells along the Israeli Coastal Aquifer was sampled. Geochemical data indicated oxic conditions prevailing in most sites. The sampled groundwater was used for microcosm experiments, functional gene analysis, and TCE compound-specific isotope analysis (δ13C and δ37Cl). Enrichments of methane and toluene oxidizers in microcosms indicated the high potential of the indigenous microbial community to co-metabolically oxidize TCE. This was further reinforced by the high abundance of mmoX and PHE functional genes quantified in some of the sites (yet lower abundance of TOD functional gene was found). Finally, compound-specific isotope analysis was used to assess the magnitude of TCE oxidation in practice. Applying the isotopic tool for scattered points on a regional scale demanded the consideration of a wide δ13C range of source TCE, hampering the ability to detect small shifts of a single permil. Thus, despite the high potential for the oxidation process, no evidence was attained for the natural occurrence of the process, and significant isotopic shifts were restricted to actively treated sites only. This limitation should be considered in future regional scale studies, in which no single source is defined.

Keywords: CSIA; PHE; TOD; Trichloroethylene; mmoX.

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Groundwater*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Trichloroethylene*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical*


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Trichloroethylene