Journal article

Benzene dispersion and natural attenuation in an alluvial aquifer with strong interactions with surface water

Field and laboratory investigations have been conducted at a former coke plant, discharging to an adjacent river, in order to assess pollutant attenuation in a contaminated alluvial aquifer. Various organic (BTEX, PAHs, mineral oils) and inorganic (As, Zn, Cd) compounds were found in the aquifer and in concentrations exceeding the obligatory limit values. Due to redox conditions of the aquifer, heavy metals were almost immobile, thus not posing a major risk of dispersion off-site the brownfield. Field and laboratory investigations demonstrated that benzene, among organic pollutants, presented the major worry for off-site dispersion, mainly due to its mobility and high concentration, i.e. up to 750 mg L-1 in the source zone. However, benzene could never be detected near the river which is about 160 m downgradient the main source. Redox conditions together with benzene concentrations determined in the aquifer have suggested that degradation mainly occurred within 100 m distance from the contaminant source under anoxic conditions, and most probably with sulphate as main oxidant. A numerical groundwater flow and transport model, calibrated under transient conditions, was used to simulate benzene attenuation in the alluvial aquifer towards the Meuse River. The mean benzene degradation rate used in the model was quantified in situ along the groundwater flow path using compound-specific carbon isotope analysis (CSIA). The results of the solute transport simulations confirmed that benzene concentrations decreased almost 5 orders of magnitude 70 m downgradient the source. Simulated concentrations have been found to be below the detection limit in the zone adjacent to the river and agreed well with the absence of benzene downgradient river-close piezometers reported in groundwater sampling campaigns. In a transient model scenario including groundwater – surface water dynamics, benzene concentrations were observed to be inversely correlated to the river water levels, leading to the hypothesis that benzene dispersion is mainly controlled by natural attenuation.


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