Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

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Using Oxygen to Clean Up Ground-Water Contamination

After determining that methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) degrades naturally in certain oxygen-rich (oxic) waters (see the MTBE Biodegrades Naturally in Stream Sediments Science Feature), USGS scientists explored the possibility of recreating those same oxic conditions in a typically anoxic subsurface plume of MTBE-oxygenated fuel. An Oxygen Release Compound (ORC®) was injected directly into a subsurface plume created by a leaking underground gasoline storage tank at the Toxics Program's Laurel Bay, South Carolina, research site. The test was designed to create a barrier of oxygenated ground water that would enable natural microbial action to remediate the MTBE. Within 60 days following the introduction of oxygen, MTBE concentrations decreased by 87 percent. This dramatic reduction was achieved by stimulating subsurface microorganisms with oxygen to degrade MTBE. MTBE concentrations have remained low for over 2 years after the injection, successfully demonstrating the potential for this new technology to rapidly accelerate the time required to clean up MTBE-contaminated sites. This test was conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Navy, the owner of the site.

Note: Trade names are used for information purposes only and do not denote endorsement by the U.S. Geological Survey.

More Information


Bradley, P.M., Chapelle, F.H. and Landmeyer, J.E., 2001, MTBE mineralization in surface-water sediment microcosms under denitrifying conditions: Applied and Environmental Microbiology, v. 67, no. 4., p. 1975-1978.

Bradley, P.M., Landmeyer, J.E., and Chapelle, F.H., 2001, Widespread potential for microbial MTBE degradation in surface-water sediments: Environmental Science and Technology, v. 35, no. 4, p. 658-662.

Landmeyer, J.E., Chapelle, F.H., Herlong, H.H., and Bradley, P.M., 2001, Methyl tert-butyl ether biodegradation by indigenous aquifer microorganisms under natural and artificial oxic conditions: Environmental Science and Technology, v. 35, n. 6, p. 1118-1126.

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