The transport, transformation, sorption and volatilization of trichloroethylene (TCE) as a non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL) and as a dissolved aqueous constituent, under both laboratory and field conditions, are reviewed.

NAPL-TCE is expected to migrate quite rapidly in soils and other water-unsaturated conditions, leaving droplets of organic liquid in the pore spaces. At the water table level, TCE may stop its downward movement and diffuse laterally, together with a slow migration downwards. From there on NAPL-TCE will slowly dissolve in groundwater. However, some specific hydraulic characteristics may induce rapid transport downwards away from the water table.

TCE may appear in soils and aquifers as a result of its wide industrial use and also, possibly, as a degradation by-product of other chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents. TCE can undergo abiotic and (mostly) biotic, aerobic and (mostly) anaerobic transformations leading to less chlorinated ethenes. A half-life of 300 days was observed under field conditions.

Batch and column experiments show that TCE is weakly sorbed on soil and aquifer solids with linear partition coefficients. Retardation factors in the range of l to 9 are reported from laboratory and field investigations. The adsorption is almost fully reversible.

Gaseous TCE is more adsorbed than aqueous TCE, the extent of uptake being greatly influenced by the moisture content of the solid. Soil gas surveys appear as a promising technique for the study of soil and groundwater contamination by TCE.

NAPL-TCE contamination should be quite effectively removed by steam injection. Because of its low adsorption and weak degradation under aerobic conditions, the diffuse contamination of aquifers by dissolved TCE can be extensive. In the case of localized and more severe pollution, approaches for the restoration of aquifers based on pumping followed by treatment at the surface may be effective but they usually are not economical. In situ treatment by stimulating the biotrans-formation is considered as a favourable alternative.

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