Superfund Research Program
Oxidative Remediation of Superfund Contaminants
The research team made considerable progress in their goal of developing safe and practical oxidative technologies for the treatment of contaminated water, soil, and sediments. The team went beyond the traditional approach of only focusing on the disappearance of the target contaminant by identifying the products of the oxidative treatment technology and their toxicity. As a result, the researchers have developed a new understanding that will help engineers avoid situations in which remediation does not eliminate all of the potential health risks of contaminants. The power of this approach is exemplified by the team’s detailed analysis of the products of oxidative treatment of benzene, toluene, xylene, and ethylbenzene with hydrogen peroxide or persulfate. By using state-of-the-art analytical techniques, such as high-resolution mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, coupled with assessment of the reactivity of the products with important biomolecules, the researchers have shown that treatment results in the production of unsaturated aldehydes—a family of compounds that can damage proteins and DNA. Studying the fate of these potentially toxic treatment products, the researchers also have shown that many of the products of oxidative treatment are converted into less toxic compounds in the presence of chlorine, which is often added to water distribution systems for disinfection and to prevent microbial growth in water pipes. This new understanding of oxidative treatment has also led to the development of a small, modular water treatment system that simplifies treatment under field conditions by producing oxidants with electricity.