U.S. Geological Survey

Cover image from WRIR00-4275 (click for enlargement, 71 KB) Simulated Transport and Biodegradation of Chlorinated Ethenes in a Fractured Dolomite Aquifer Near Niagara Falls, New York

by Richard M. Yager

Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4275


Leakage of trichloroethene (TCE) from a neutralization pond at a former manufacturing facility near Niagara Falls, N.Y. during 1950-87 into the Guelph Formation of the Lockport Group, a fractured dolomite aquifer, created a plume of TCE and its metabolites that, by 1990, extended about 4,300 feet south of the facility. A smaller plume of dense, nonaqueous-phase liquids (DNAPL) probably serves as a continuing source of TCE. The presence of the TCE metabolites cis-1,2-dichloroethene (DCE), vinyl chloride (VC), and ethene in the plume, and the results of previous laboratory microcosm studies, indicate that the TCE is being degraded by naturally occurring microorganisms. Biodegradation rates of TCE and its metabolites were estimated through simulation with BIOMOC, a solute-transport model that represents multispecies reactions through Monod kinetics. A fracture zone in the Guelph Formation was represented as a porous medium containing an extensive, 3-foot thick layer with several interconnected fractures; this layer is bounded above and below by subhorizontal stratigraphic contacts. The Monod reaction constants were estimated through nonlinear regression to minimize the difference between computed concentrations of TCE and its metabolites, and the concentrations measured before and during 5 years of pump-and-treat remediation. 

Transport simulations indicated that, by April 1998, the chlorinated ethene plume had reached a dynamic equilibrium between the rate of TCE dissolution and the rate of removal through pumping and biodegradation. Biodegradation of chlorinated ethenes at the site can be simulated as first-order reactions because the concentrations are generally less than the half-saturation constants estimated for Monod kinetics (320 mg/L for TCE, 10 mg/L for DCE, and 1 mg/L for VC). Computed degradation rates are proportional to the estimated ground-water velocity, which could vary by more than an order magnitude at the site, as indicated by the estimated range of fracture porosity--3 to 0.3 percent. Half-lives corresponding to first-order rate constants estimated for the lower velocity (5 to 15 feet per day) ranged from 21 to 25 days for TCE, 170 to 230 days for DCE, and 18 to 23 days for VC.  

Chlorinated ethene concentrations of April 1998 were better reproduced when the TCE source was represented as a constant concentration than as a constant flux, because the latter predicted that the plume would dissipate after 5 years of pump-and-treat remediation. This result indicates that the rate of TCE dissolution is not limited by the mass of TCE in the DNAPL plume. Simulation of diffusion by the transport model MOC3D indicated that concentrations of these contaminants within the rock matrix surrounding the fracture zone were relatively unchanged after 5 years of pump-and-treat remediation. The principal sources of uncertainty in the prediction of biodegradation rates and of the fate of chlorinated ethenes at the site are the fracture porosity and DNAPL mass in the aquifer. 

Citation: Yager, R.M., 2002, Simulated Transport and Biodegradation of Chlorinated Ethenes in a Fractured Dolomite Aquifer Near Niagara Falls, New York: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4275, 55 p.

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