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A Practical Approach to the Design, Monitoring, and Optimization of In Situ MTBE Aerobic Biobarriers



A paradigm for the design, monitoring, and optimization of in situ methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) aerobic biobarriers is presented. In this technology, an oxygen-rich biologically reactive treatment zone (the “biobarrier”) is established in situ and downgradient of the source of dissolved MTBE contamination in groundwater, typically gasoline-impacted soils resulting from leaks and spills at service station sites or other fuel storage and distribution facilities. The system is designed so that groundwater containing dissolved MTBE flows to, and through, the biobarrier treatment zone, ideally under natural gradient conditions so that no pumping is necessary. As the groundwater passes through the biobarrier, the MTBE is converted by microorganisms to innocuous by-products. The system also reduces concentrations of other aerobically degradable chemicals dissolved in the groundwater, such as benzene, toluene, xylenes, and tert-butyl alcohol. This design paradigm is based on experience gained while designing, monitoring, and optimizing pilot-scale and full-scale MTBE biobarrier systems. It is largely empirically based, although the design approach does rely on simple engineering calculations. The paradigm emphasizes gas injection–based oxygen delivery schemes, although many of the steps would be common to other methods of delivering oxygen to aquifers.