Biodegradability of chlorinated solvents and related chlorinated aliphatic compounds

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125 Scopus citations


The biodegradability of chlorinated methanes, chlorinated ethanes, chlorinated ethenes, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chlorinated acetic acids, chlorinated propanoids and chlorinated butadienes was evaluated based on literature data. Evidence for the biodegradation of compounds in all of the compound categories evaluated has been reported. A broad range of chlorinated aliphatic structures are susceptible to biodegradation under a variety of physiological and redox conditions. Microbial biodegradation of a wide variety of chlorinated aliphatic compounds was shown to occur under five physiological conditions. However, any given physiological condition could only act upon a subset of the chlorinated compounds. Firstly, chlorinated compounds are used as an electron donor and carbon source under aerobic conditions. Secondly, chlorinated compounds are cometabolized under aerobic conditions while the microorganisms are growing (or otherwise already have grown) on another primary substrate. Thirdly, chlorinated compounds are also degraded under anaerobic conditions in which they are utilized as an electron donor and carbon source. Fourthly, chlorinated compounds can serve as an electron acceptor to support respiration of anaerobic microorganisms utilizing simple electron donating substrates. Lastly chlorinated compounds are subject to anaerobic cometabolism becoming biotransformed while the microorganisms grow on other primary substrate or electron acceptor. The literature survey demonstrates that, in many cases, chlorinated compounds are completely mineralised to benign end products. Additionally, biodegradation can occur rapidly. Growth rates exceeding 1 d -1 were observed for many compounds. Most compound categories include chlorinated structures that are used to support microbial growth. Growth can be due to the use of the chlorinated compound as an electron donor or alternatively to the use of the chlorinated compound as an electron acceptor (halorespiration). Biodegradation linked to growth is important, since under such conditions, rates of degradation will increase as the microbial population (biocatalyst) increases. Combinations of redox conditions are favorable for the biodegradation of highly chlorinated structures that are recalcitrant to degradation under aerobic conditions. However, under anaerobic conditions, highly chlorinated structures are partially dehalogenated to lower chlorinated counterparts. The lower chlorinated compounds are subsequently more readily mineralized under aerobic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-254
Number of pages70
JournalReviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2004


  • Biodegradation
  • CFC
  • Chlorinated aliphatic compounds
  • Chloroacetic acids
  • Chlorobutadienes
  • Chloroethanes
  • Chloroethenes
  • Chlorofluorocarbons
  • Chloromethanes
  • Chloropropanes
  • Chloropropenes
  • Epichlorohydrin
  • Halorespiration
  • Microbial dechlorination
  • PCE
  • TCE

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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