Infoscience

Journal article

A physical-chemical screening model for anticipating widespread contamination of community supply wells by gasoline constituents

Continuing modifications of fuels like gasoline should include evaluations of the proposed constituents for their potential to damage environmental resources such as subsurface water supplies. Consequently, we developed a screening model to estimate well water concentrations and transport times for gasoline components migrating from underground fuel tank (UFT) releases to typical at-risk community water supply wells. Representative fuel release volumes and hydrogeologic characteristics were used to parameterize the transport calculation. Subsurface degradation processes were neglected in the model in order to make risk-conservative assessments. The model was tailored to individual compounds based on their abundances in gasoline, gasoline–water partition coefficients (Kgw), and organic matter–water partition coefficients (Kom). Transport calculations were conducted for 20 polar and 4 nonpolar compounds found in gasoline, including methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) and other ether oxygenates, ethanol, methanol, and some aromatic hydrocarbons. With no calibration, the screening model successfully captured the reported magnitude of MTBE contamination of at-risk community supply wells. Such screening indicates that other oxygenates would cause similar widespread problems unless they were biodegradable. Stochastic analysis of field parameter variability concluded that community supply well contamination estimates had order-of-magnitude reliability. This indicated that such pre-manufacturing analyses may reasonably anticipate widespread environmental problems and/or inspire focused investigations into chemical properties (e.g., biodegradability) before industrial adoption of new fuel formulations.

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