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Field study of TCE diffusion profiles below DNAPL to assess aquitard integrity.

Authors
  • Parker, Beth L
  • Cherry, John A
  • Chapman, Steven W
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of Contaminant Hydrology
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Oct 01, 2004
Volume
74
Issue
1-4
Pages
197–230
Identifiers
PMID: 15358493
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

An area where a free-product accumulation of trichloroethylene (TCE) dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) occurs at the bottom of a 10-m-thick surficial sand aquifer was studied to determine the integrity of the underlying, 20-m-thick, clayey silt aquitard formed of glaciolacustrine sediment. TCE concentration-versus-depth profiles determined from aquitard cores collected at five locations indicated penetration of detectable TCE 2.5 to 3.0 m into the aquitard. Two of the profiles show persistent DNAPL at the aquitard interface, while two others indicate that DNAPL, present initially, was completely dissolved away producing concentration declines at the aquitard interface. The fifth profile suggests shallow DNAPL penetration (<0.5 m) into the aquitard, however, this penetration, which was likely caused by cross-contamination during core collection or cone penetrometry (CPT) of the aquitard interface, did not increase the maximum depth of TCE penetration. Combining the field profiles with one-dimensional model simulations, downward migration of the aqueous TCE front, defined as the EPA MCL of 5 microg/l, which was below the analytical detection limit, was projected to a distance between 4 and 5 m below the top of the aquitard. Using a single set of estimated aquitard parameter values, simulations of aqueous TCE migration into the aquitard provided a good fit to four of the field profiles with a migration time of 35 to 45 years, consistent with the history of TCE use at the site. These simulations indicate aqueous TCE migration is diffusion-dominated with only small advective influence by the downward groundwater velocity of 2 to 3 cm/year or less in the aquitard due to pumping of the underlying aquifer to supply water to the facility in the past 50 years. The applicability of the parameter values was confirmed by in situ diffusion experiments of 1-year duration, in which stainless steel cylinders containing DNAPL were inserted into the aquitard. The diffusion-dominated nature of the profiles indicates that the aquitard provides long-term protection of the underlying aquifer from contamination from this DNAPL zone. Simulations of long-term migration of the TCE solute front indicate breakthrough to the lower aquifer at 1200 years for the no advection scenario and at 500 years if the strong downward hydraulic gradient persists. However, even after breakthrough, the mass flux through the aquitard to the underlying aquifer remains relatively low, and when considered in terms of potential impacts to pumping wells, concentrations are not expected to increase significantly above present-day MCLs. The use of contaminant profiles of different time and distance scales, in addition to hydraulic data, dramatically improves the ability to assess aquitard integrity, and provides improved transport parameter values for estimating contaminant arrival times and fluxes. The apparent lack of deep preferential pathways for TCE migration, such as open fractures, is probably due to the softness of the silty aquitard deposit and minimal physical or chemical weathering of the aquitard provides long-term protection of the underlying aquifer from contamination from this DNAPL zone. Simulations of long-term migration of the TCE solute front indicate breakthrough to the lower aquifer at 1200 years for the no advection scenario and at 500 years if the strong downward hydraulic gradient persists. However, even after the breakthrough, the mass flux through the aquitard to the underlying aquifer remains relatively low, and when considered in terms of potential impacts to pumping wells , concentrations are not expected to increase significantly above present-day MCLs. The use of contaminant profiles of different time and distance scales, in addition to hydraulic data, dramatically improves the ability to assess aquitard integrity, and provides improved transport parameter values for estimating contaminant arrival times and fluxes. The apparent lack of deep preferential pathways for TCE migration, such as open fractures, is probably due to the softness of the silty aquitard deposit and minimal physical or chemical weathering of the aquitard.

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