A controlled field experiment on groundwater contamination by a multicomponent DNAPL: dissolved-plume retardation. 2003

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A natural gradient emplaced-source (ES) controlled field experiment was conducted at the Borden aquifer research site, Ontario, to study the transport of dissolved plumes emanating from residual dense nonaqueous-phase liquid (DNAPL) source zones. The specific objective of the work presented here is to determine the effects of solute and co-solute concentrations on sorption and retardation of dissolved chlorinated solvent-contaminant plumes. The ES field experiment comprised a controlled emplacement of a residual multicomponent DNAPL below the groundwater table and intensive monitoring of dissolved-phase plumes of trichloromethane (TCM), trichloroethylene (TCE), and perchloroethylene (PCE) plumes continuously generated in the aquifer down gradient from gradual source dissolution. Estimates of plume retardation (and dispersion) were obtained from 3-D numerical simulations that incorporated transient source input and flow regimes monitored during the test. PCE, the most retarded solute, surprisingly exhibited a retardation factor approximately 3 times lower than observed in a previous Borden tracer test by Mackay et al. [Water Resour. Res. 22 (1986) 2017] conducted approximately 150 m away. Also, an absence of temporal trend in PCE retardation contrasted with the previous Borden test. Supporting laboratory studies on ES site core indicated that sorption was nonlinear and competitive, i.e. reduced sorption of PCE was observed in the presence of TCE. Consideration of the effects of relatively high co-solute (TCE) concentration (competitive sorption) in addition to PCE concentration effects (nonlinear sorption) was necessary to yield laboratory-based PCE retardation estimates consistent with the field plume values. Concentration- and co-solute-based sorption and retardation analysis was also applied to the previous low-concentration pulse injection test of Mackay et al. [Water Resour. Res. 22 (1986) 2017] and was able to successfully predict the temporal field retardation trends observed in that test. While it is acknowledged that other "nonideal transport" effects may contribute, our analysis predicts differences in the PCE retardation magnitude and trend between the two experiments that are consistent with field observations based on the marked solute concentration differences that resulted from contrasting source conditions. Solute and co-solute concentration effects have heretofore received little attention, but may have wide significance in aquifers contaminated by point-source pollutants because many plumes contain mixed solutes over wide concentration ranges in strata that are likely subject to nonlinear sorption.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-146
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2003


  • nonlinear sorption, sorption, PCE, retardation, trichloroethylene, competitive sorption, perchloroethylene, TCE