Modeling Chlorine Isotope Trends during Sequential Transformation of Chlorinated Ethenes

Daniel Hunkeler, Boris M. Van Breukelen, Martin Elsner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


There is increasing interest in combined carbon−chlorine compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA) to differentiate between contaminant sources and to assess transformation processes. However, the significant abundance of polychlorinated molecules with several heavy chlorine isotopes complicates the evaluation of chlorine isotope trends. Therefore, the goal of this study was to develop a conceptual and mathematical framework that describes the expected chlorine isotope fractionation patterns during multistep transformation of chlorinated compounds. Reductive dechlorination of chlorinated ethenes served as an example. The study demonstrates that chlorine isotope trends can be simulated by reproducing the average behavior of light and heavy isotopes or by explicitly simulating molecules with different numbers of heavy isotopes (isotopologues). The calculations reveal that initial chlorine isotope ratios of products equal the isotope ratios of their parent compounds in the absence of secondary isotope effects, while steadily increasing during transformation. The slopes in dual isotope plots are linear for reactant and product during a one-step reaction. They become nonlinear for products that are degraded further but converge to characteristic slopes. Consideration of different scenarios reveals that combined carbon−chlorine isotope analysis bears high potential to differentiate between contaminant sources, to elucidate reaction mechanisms in laboratory studies, and to identify transformation processes in the field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6750-6756
JournalEnvironmental science & technology
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

Cite this