Life cycle of petroleum biodegradation metabolite plumes, and implications for risk management at fuel release sites

TitleLife cycle of petroleum biodegradation metabolite plumes, and implications for risk management at fuel release sites
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsZemo D.A, O'Reilly K.T, Mohler R.E, Magaw R.I, Devine C.E, Ahn S., Tiwary A.K
JournalIntegrated Environmental Assessment and Management
Date PublishedJul
ISBN Number1551-3777
Accession NumberWOS:000403466400018
KeywordsOil and Gas Degradation
AbstractThis paper summarizes the results of a 5-y research study of the nature and toxicity of petroleum biodegradation metabolites in groundwater at fuel release sites that are quantified as diesel-range Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPH; also known as TPHd, diesel-range organics (DRO), etc.), unless a silica gel cleanup (SGC) step is used on the sample extract prior to the TPH analysis. This issue is important for site risk management in regulatory jurisdictions that use TPH as a metric; the presence of these metabolites may preclude site closure even if all other factors can be considered low-risk. Previous work has shown that up to 100% of the extractable organics in groundwater at petroleum release sites can be biodegradation metabolites. The metabolites can be separated from the hydrocarbons by incorporating an SGC step; however, regulatory agency acceptance of SGC has been inconsistent because of questions about the nature and toxicity of the metabolites. The present study was conducted to answer these specific questions. Groundwater samples collected from source and downgradient wells at fuel release sites were extracted and subjected to targeted gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and nontargeted two-dimensional gas chromatography with time-of-flight mass spectrometry (GCxGC-MS) analyses, and the metabolites identified in each sample were classified according to molecular structural classes and assigned an oral reference dose (RfD)-based toxicity ranking. Our work demonstrates that the metabolites identified in groundwater at biodegrading fuel release sites are in classes ranked as low toxicity to humans and are not expected to pose significant risk to human health. The identified metabolites naturally attenuate in a predictable manner, with an overall trend to an increasingly higher proportion of organic acids and esters, and a lower human toxicity profile, and a life cycle that is consistent with the low-risk natural attenuation paradigm adopted by many regulatory agencies for petroleum release sites. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2017;13:714-727. (c) 2016 The Authors. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of Society of Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry (SETAC)