Characterizing long-term contaminant mass discharge and the relationship between reductions in discharge and reductions in mass for DNAPL source areas

Mark L Brusseau, D. E. Matthieu, K. C. Carroll, J. Mainhagu, C. Morrison, A. McMillan, A. Russo, M. Plaschke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Scopus citations


The objective of this study was to characterize the temporal behavior of contaminant mass discharge, and the relationship between reductions in contaminant mass discharge and reductions in contaminant mass, for a very heterogeneous, highly contaminated source-zone field site. Trichloroethene is the primary contaminant of concern, and several lines of evidence indicate the presence of organic liquid in the subsurface. The site is undergoing groundwater extraction for source control, and contaminant mass discharge has been monitored since system startup. The results show a significant reduction in contaminant mass discharge with time, decreasing from approximately 1 to 0.15 kg/d over five years. Two methods were used to estimate the mass of contaminant present in the source area at the initiation of the remediation project. One was based on a comparison of two sets of core data, collected 3.5 years apart, which suggests that a significant (~ 80%) reduction in aggregate sediment-phase TCE concentrations occurred between sampling events. The second method was based on fitting the temporal contaminant mass discharge data with a simple exponential source-depletion function. Relatively similar estimates, 784 and 993 kg, respectively, were obtained with the two methods. These data were used to characterize the relationship between reductions in contaminant mass discharge (CMDR) and reductions in contaminant mass (MR). The observed curvilinear relationship exhibits a reduction in contaminant mass discharge essentially immediately upon the initiation of mass reduction. This behavior is consistent with a system wherein significant quantities of mass are present in hydraulically poorly accessible domains for which mass removal is influenced by rate-limited mass transfer. The results obtained from the present study are compared to those obtained from other field studies to evaluate the impact of system properties and conditions on mass-discharge and mass-removal behavior. The results indicate that factors such as domain scale, hydraulic-gradient status (induced or natural), and flushing-solution composition had insignificant impact on the CMDR-MR profiles and thus on underlying mass-removal behavior. Conversely, source-zone age, through its impact on contaminant distribution and accessibility, was implicated as a critical factor influencing the nature of the CMDR-MR relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Publication statusPublished - 2013



  • DNAPL remediation Source zone Mass flux Source containment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Chemistry

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