Carbon Isotope Effects Resulting from Equilibrium Sorption of Dissolved VOCs
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To accurately interpret isotopic data obtained for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) dissolved in groundwater systems, the isotopic effects of subsurface processes must be understood. Previous work has demonstrated that volatilization and dissolution of BTEX and chlorinated ethene compounds are not significantly isotopically fractionating. This study characterized the carbon isotopic effects of equilibrium sorption of perchloroethylene, trichloroethylene, benzene, and toluene to both graphite and activated carbon directly in batch experiments over a range of 10-90% sorption. Results demonstrate that, over this range, equilibrium sorption of these VOCs to graphite and activated carbon does not result in significant carbon isotopic fractionation within the +/-0.5% accuracy and reproducibility associated with compound-specific isotope analysis. This implies that the isotopic values of dissolved VOCs will not be significantly affected by equilibrium sorption in the subsurface. Therefore, isotopic analysis has potential to be used in the field to differentiate between mass losses due to isotopically fractionating processes such as biodegradation versus mass loss due to nondegradative processes.
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