New technique monitors chromium contamination in groundwater

using our technique, and then determine rather directly how much hexavalent chromium reduction has occurred, Johnson said. That information can then be used to decide the best course of action whether aggressively cleaning up the site or leaving it for nature to run its course.

At some sites, there are naturally occurring reducing agents in the subsurface such as iron-bearing minerals like magnetite that will convert hexavalent chromium to trivalent chromium. If the reaction rate is fast enough, the contaminant can be naturally attenuated. Such an approach is much less expensive and disruptive than active remediation. At other sites, chemical reducing agents must be injected in the ground to mitigate the pollution, Johnson said. In either case, we want to provide a technology to monitor whether the reduction is occurring, and if so, to what extent.

Based on their measurements, the researchers suggest that all chromium plating waste, regardless of source or different industrial procedures, has nearly the same initial ratio of heavy to light isotopes as that found in naturally occurring igneous rocks and chromium ores. These findings could simplify the monitoring procedure.

If all contaminant sources are nearly the same, then detection of hexavalent chromium reduction in groundwater systems would be relatively simple, as the initial ratio would be known and any shift would directly indicate the extent of reduction, Johnson said. But, if we find that various sources are indeed different, then we can use the unique isotopic ratios as chemical fingerprints to identify specific contaminant plumes.


Contact: James E. Kloeppel
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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