Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Plants, Soils, and Climate

Department name when degree awarded

Plants, Soils, and Biometeorology

Committee Chair(s)

Bruce Bugbee


Bruce Bugbee


Bill Doucette


Paul Grossl


Trichloroethylene (TCE) was widely used as an industrial solvent and degreasing agent for most of the twentieth century. It is now a widespread groundwater contaminant. Phytoremediation may be a cost-effective cleanup method for TCE-contaminated soils and groundwater. Studies of environmental TCE fate are complicated by its volatility. The literature reports both significant and insignificant plant uptake of TCE. Conflicting findings may be due to differences in exposure level, conditions, and duration of the studies, or to experimental artifacts from laboratory systems.

This research quantified plant uptake and volatilization of TCE using a unique laboratory system. Hybrid poplar trees were exposed to 1 or 10 ppm TCE over a 43-d period. [14C]TCE was added to four high-flow, aerated, hydroponic plant growth chamber systems designed to provide high mass recoveries, an optimal plant environment, and complete separation between foliar and root uptake.

Transpiration stream concentration factors (TSCFs) for TCE, calculated from total [14C]TCE in shoot tissues plus phytovolatilized 14C, were 0.11 for two 1 ppm treatments and 0.15 for a 10 ppm treatment with roughly 25% attributed to phytovolatilization. Though extending study duration from 26 to 43 d resulted in accumulation of more mass of 14C in plant tissues, it had no effect on TSCF. These TSCF values are much lower than other published experimental values and values predicted by a theoretical relationship between TSCF and octanol-water partition coefficient. The TCE metabolites trichloroethanol (TCEt), trichloroacetic acid (TCAA), and dichloroacetic acid (DCAA) were identified in plant tissues of the 10-mg/L treatment.

Hybrid poplar uptake ofTCAA and TCEt was quantified using a simpler aerated hydroponic system. TSCF values were calculated based on extractable parent compound in shoot tissues. TSCF for TCEt was < 0.01. Presence of TCAA in hydroponic solution and in leaf and root tissues indicated transformation of TCEt to TCAA. TSCF for TCAA was < 0.03 and decreased with increasing exposure concentration. TSCF also decreased under oxygen-limited root-zone conditions. Presence of DCAA in leaf and root tissues indicated transformation of TCAA to DCAA. Transformation of parent compound, coupled with low extractability, may contribute to low TSCFs.