Definition, objectives, and evaluation of natural attenuation

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Natural attenuation offers large benefits to owners and managers of contaminated sites, but often raises strong objections from those who live and work near a site and are asked to assume most of the long-term risks. Part of the controversy comes about because published definitions of natural attenuation do not identify a realistic end-point objective, and they also are ambiguous about the naturally occurring processes that can achieve the objective. According to guidance from the U.S. National Research Council (NRC 2000), destruction and strong immobilization are the naturally occurring processes that achieve a realistic objective: containing the contaminant relatively nears its source, thereby minimizing exposure risks. The strategy for obtaining solid evidence that the objective is being achieved requires measurements that establish a cause-and-effect relationship between contaminant loss and a destruction or strong-immobilization reaction. The cause-and-effect relationship is best documented with reaction footprints, which typically are concentration changes in reactants or products of the destruction or immobilization reaction. MTBE presents a contemporary example in which footprint evidence for biodegradation is especially crucial, since aerobic biodegradation of MTBE requires special conditions not present at all sites: a high availability of dissolved oxygen and bacteria expressing particular oxygenase enzymes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-357
Number of pages9
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • MTBE
  • footprints
  • monitoring
  • natural attenuation
  • remediation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Bioengineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Microbiology
  • Environmental Chemistry


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