Jim Florey, Andrew Adams, Larry Michell (in memoriam)
Chlorinated solvents such as tetrachloroethene (perchloroethene, PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) have been extensively used in various industrial applications for many years. Because neither are typically consumed through their various uses, they are often released to the environment through industrial application or disposal. Once released, PCE and TCE tend to migrate downward into groundwater, where they persist. In the current case study, cheese whey was used as a groundwater amendment to facilitate the reductive dechlorination of a chlorinated solvent plume underlying an auto dealer/repair shop in Harris County, Texas. From September 2010 to January 2014, over 32,000 gallons of cheese whey were injected into the subsurface resulting in a marked reduction in oxidation-reduction potential (ORP) and nitrate concentrations, coupled with an increase in ferrous iron concentrations. Statistical trend analyses indicate the primary contaminants PCE and TCE, as well as the daughter product cis-1,2-dichloroethene (cDCE), all exhibited a positive response, as evidenced by statistically decreasing trends, and/or reversal in concentration trends, subsequent to cheese whey injections. Maximum concentrations of PCE and TCE in key test wells decreased by as much as 98.97% and 99.17%, respectively. In addition, the bacterial genus Dehalococcoides, capable of complete reduction of PCE to non-toxic ethene, was found to be more abundant in the treatment area, as compared to background concentrations. Because cheese whey is a by-product of the cheese making process, the cost of the product is essentially limited to transport. This study has shown cheese whey to be an effective groundwater amendment at a cost which is orders of magnitude lower than popular industry alternatives.