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Persistence of a Groundwater Contaminant Plume after Hydraulic Source Containment at a Chlorinated‐Solvent Contaminated Site

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The objective of this study was to characterize the behavior of a groundwater contaminant (trichloroethene, TCE) plume after implementation of a source‐containment operation at a site in Arizona. The plume resides in a quasi‐three‐layer system comprising a sand/gravel unit bounded on the top and bottom by relatively thick silty clayey layers. The system was monitored for 60 months beginning at start‐up in 2007 to measure the change in contaminant concentrations within the plume, the change in plume area, the mass of the contaminant removed, and the integrated contaminant mass discharge (CMD). The concentrations of TCE in groundwater pumped from the plume extraction wells have declined significantly over the course of operation, as have concentrations for groundwater sampled from 40 monitoring wells located within the plume. The total CMD associated with operation of the plume extraction wells peaked at 0.23 kg/d, decreased significantly within 1 year, and thereafter began an asymptotic decline to a current value of approximately 0.03 kg/d. Despite an 87% reduction in contaminant mass and a comparable 87% reduction in CMD for the plume, the spatial area encompassed by the plume has decreased by only approximately 50%. This is much less than would be anticipated based on ideal flushing and mass‐removal behavior. Simulations produced with a simplified three‐dimensional (3D) numerical model matched reasonably well to the measured data. The results of the study suggest that permeability heterogeneity, back diffusion, hydraulic factors associated with the specific well field system, and residual discharge from the source zone are all contributing to the observed persistence of the plume, as well as the asymptotic behavior currently observed for mass removal and for the reduction in CMD.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2014

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