Polychlorinated biphenyls, pcbs, pcb, environmental remediation, environmental chemistry, magnesium, nmts, amts, soil, sludge, paint, oil


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of environmentally persistent halogenated organic compounds that were once used as stabilizers to improve the properties of a variety of materials such as lubricants, heat transfer fluids, paints, and caulking materials. PCBs are also capable of migration through processes such as spillage into soils, leaching into groundwater, and volatilization into the atmosphere. Although banned in 1979 over health concerns, PCBs persist in these materials to this day because they are resistant to biotic degradation and natural weathering processes. The wide variety of contaminated materials means that many existing treatment options cannot be used across all media. This research focuses on the adaptation of a reductive dehalogenation system for dechlorination of PCBs from machine oils, paints, sludges, and soils. The system utilizes magnesium, glacial acetic acid, and ethanol in order to remove the chlorine atoms from the biphenyl backbone, which is less toxic and can be broken down biotically. A treatment plan was devised for machine oil contaminated with PCBs, involving sorption of PCBs onto a column of super activated alumina followed by desorption into hexane and treatment of the hexane with magnesium and acidified ethanol to dechlorinate the PCBs. In a small-scale study, 98.5% of PCBs from an oil sample were sorbed to the column, and the PCBs that were subsequently desorbed were dechlorinated to below detectable levels within one day of magnesium and acidified ethanol treatment. Information from small-scale studies was used to design larger sorption columns intended for use at a field site. iv A field study was conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different treatment system pastes at removing PCBs from painted surfaces. These pastes were formulated with bulking and viscosity control agents in order to cling to vertical surfaces, and contained either acidified ethanol and magnesium (Activated Metal Treatment System, AMTS) or acidified ethanol only (Non-Metal Treatment System, NMTS). AMTS was capable of 64.8% average removal of PCBs from paint, while NMTS demonstrated 89.5% average removal but required a second step to dechlorinate the extracted PCBs. This system allows for treatment of surfaces without demolishing the structure. AMTS was also studied for in situ dechlorination of PCBs in soils, and NMTS enclosed in a polyethylene barrier was studied for extraction of PCBs from sludges. A two-step system was devised for the ex situ treatment of PCB-contaminated soils. Solvent extraction with ethanol or an ethanol/ethyl lactate cosolvent is followed by dechlorination using magnesium and glacial acetic acid. Studies included the optimization of extraction solvent, cosolvent ratio, cost, and reuse of magnesium or extraction solvent. Surface analysis of magnesium particles used in dechlorination showed a precipitate occluding part of the surface, which was thought to be a combination of magnesium ethoxide and magnesium hydroxide. This precipitate is thought to come from the reaction of magnesium ethoxide formed during the PCB dechlorination process with pore water extracted from the soil.


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Graduation Date





Yestrebsky, Cherie


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



Degree Program









Release Date

February 2014

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic

Included in

Chemistry Commons