In this study, the biodegradability of nanoscale zero-valent iron (nZVI) dispersants and their effects on the intrinsic biodegradation of trichloroethylene (TCE) were evaluated. Results of a microcosm study show that the biodegradability of three dispersants followed the sequence of: polyvinyl alcohol-co-vinyl acetate-co-itaconic acid (PV3A) > polyoxyethylene (20) sorbitan monolaurate (Tween 20) > polyacrylic acid (PAA) under aerobic conditions, and PV3A > Tween 20 > PAA under anaerobic conditions. Natural biodegradation of TCE was observed under both aerobic and anaerobic conditions. No significant effects were observed on the intrinsic biodegradation of TCE under aerobic conditions with the presence of the dispersants. The addition of PAA seemed to have a slightly adverse impact on anaerobic TCE biodegradation. Higher accumulation of the byproducts of anaerobic TCE biodegradation was detected with the addition of PV3A and Tween 20. The diversity of the microbial community was enhanced under aerobic conditions with the presence of more biodegradable PV3A and Tween 20. The results of this study indicate that it is necessary to select an appropriate dispersant for nZVI to prevent a residual of the dispersant in the subsurface. Additionally, the effects of the dispersant on TCE biodegradation and the accumulation of TCE biodegrading byproducts should also be considered.

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