A controlled field experiment on groundwater contamination by a multicomponent DNAPL: creation of the emplaced-source and overview of dissolved plume development

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A unique field experiment has been undertaken at the CFB Borden research site to investigate the development of dissolved chlorinated solvent plumes from a residual dense non-aqueous phase liquid (DNAPL) source. The "emplaced-source" tracer test methodology involved a controlled emplacement of a block-shaped source of sand containing chlorinated solvents below the water table. The gradual dissolution of this residual DNAPL solvent source under natural aquifer conditions caused dissolved solvent plumes of trichloromethane (TCM), trichloroethene (TCE) and perchloroethene (PCE) to continuously develop down gradient. Source dissolution and 3-D plume development were successfully monitored via 173 multilevel samplers over a 475-day tracer test period prior to site remediation research being initiated. Detailed groundwater level and hydraulic conductivity data were collected. Development of plumes with concentrations spanning 1-700,000 micrograms/1 is described and key processes controlling their migration identified. Plumes were observed to be narrow due to the weakness of transverse dispersion processes and long due to advection and significant longitudinal dispersion, very limited sorptive retardation and negligible, if any, attenuation due to biodegradation or abiotic reaction. TCM was shown to be essentially conservative, TCE very nearly conservative and PCE, consistent with its greater hydrophobicity, more retarded yet having a greater mobility than observed in previous Borden field tests. The absence of biodegradation was ascribed to the prevailing aerobic conditions and lack of any additional biodegradable carbon substrates. The transient groundwater flow regime caused significant transverse lateral plume movement, plume asymmetry and was likely responsible for most of the, albeit limited, transverse horizontal plume spreading. In agreement with the widespread incidence of extensive TCE and PCE plumes throughout the industrialized world, the experiment indicates such solvent plumes are likely to be highly mobile and persistent, at least in aquifers that are aerobic and have low sorption potential (low foc content).


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-149
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2001