Addressing contaminated groundwater with organic mulch permeable reactive barriers

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Organic mulch consists of insoluble carbon biopolymers that are enzymatically hydrolyzed during decomposition to release aqueous total organic carbon (TOC). The released TOC is utilized by microorganisms as an electron donor to transform electrophilic contaminants via reductive pathways. Over the last decade, organic mulch permeable reactive barriers (PRBs), or biowalls, have received increased interest as a relatively inexpensive slow-release electron donor technology for addressing contaminated groundwater. To date, biowalls have been installed to enhance the passive bioremediation of groundwater contaminated with a variety of electrophilic compounds, including chlorinated solvents, explosives, and perchlorate. In addition, several mulch biowall projects are currently under way at several U.S.  department of Defense facilities. However, at the present time, the guidelines available for the design of mulch PRBs are limited to a few case studies published in the technical literature. A biowall design, construction, and operation protocol document is expected to be issued by the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence in 2007. In this publication, three technical considerations that can have a significant impact on the design and performance of mulch PRBs are presented and discussed. These technical considerations are: (1) hydraulic characteristics of the mulch bed; (2) biochemical characteristics of different types of organic amendments used as mulch PRB fill materials; and (3) a transport model that can be used to estimate the required PRB thickness to attain cleanup standards.

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