Modeling chlorine isotope trends during sequential transformation of chlorinated ethenes

D. Hunkeler, B.M. van Breukelen, M. Elsner

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    There is increasing interest in combined carbon-chlorine compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA) to differentiate between contaminant sources and to assess transformation processes. However, the significant abundance of polychlorinated molecules with several heavy chlorine isotopes complicates the evaluation of chlorine isotope trends. Therefore, the goal of this study was to develop a conceptual and mathematical framework that describes the expected chlorine isotope fractionation patterns during multistep transformation of chlorinated compounds. Reductive dechlorination of chlorinated ethenes served as an example. The study demonstrates that chlorine isotope trends can be simulated by reproducing the average behavior of light and heavy isotopes or by explicitly simulating molecules with different numbers of heavy isotopes (isotopologues). The calculations reveal that initial chlorine isotope ratios of products equal the isotope ratios of their parent compounds in the absence of secondary isotope effects, while steadily increasing during transformation. The slopes in dual isotope plots are linear for reactant and product during a one-step reaction. They become nonlinear for products that are degraded further but converge to characteristic slopes. Consideration of different scenarios reveals that combined carbon-chlorine isotope analysis bears high potential to differentiate between contaminant sources, to elucidate reaction mechanisms in laboratory studies, and to identify transformation processes in the field. © 2009 American Chemical Society.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)6750-6756
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
    Issue number17
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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