Basic Research Addressing Contaminants in Low Permeability Zones

Dr. Tom Sale | Colorado State University



It is becoming increasingly apparent that contaminants stored in low permeability zones can be a critical issue for source zones and plumes associated with releases of chlorinated solvents.  The overarching objective of this project is to advance new knowledge that will support comprehensive strategies for managing releases of chlorinated solvents and other persistent contaminants in groundwater in unconsolidated sediments. Specific objectives are to improve understanding of contaminant storage-release in low permeability zones, demonstrate novel site characterization approaches, advance a set of validated predictive tools, explore the efficacy of current technologies for contaminants in low permeability zones, and develop a foundation for selecting remedies.

These objectives are being addressed in three areas:

  1. A State of the Science review titled “Management of Contaminants Stored in Low Permeability Zones”.
  2. Development of a Web-based interactive version of the 14 Compartment Model.  This builds on a decision guide for releases of chlorinated solvents developed under ESTCP project ER-200530.  The interactive version will be finished in the summer of 2013.
  3.  Third-Generation (3G) Site Characterization - Cryogenic Core Collection and High-Throughput Core Analysis. This two-year effort began in the spring of 2013.

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Technical Approach

To meet the project objectives, eight interrelated activities will be completed that are linked through a single Department of Defense field site.  Specific activities addressed include: (1) demonstrating the collection and use of high-density data to resolve the distribution of contaminants in low permeability and transmissive zones; (2) testing and validating modeling techniques that can be used to predict the presence and impact of contaminants in low permeability zones; (3) measuring critical diffusion and retardation coefficients in heterogeneous low permeability sediments; (4) collecting evidence of contaminant degradation in low permeability zones; (5) testing and validating the use of membrane interface probe systems to characterize the presence and distribution of contaminants in low permeability zones; (6) developing a set of type site scenarios representing contrasting realistic site conceptual models that can be used by practitioners who are managing real sites; (7) advancing current knowledge regarding standard approaches for treating contaminants in low permeability zones through a review of the state of the art and demonstrative laboratory sand tank studies; (8) developing an interactive version of the 14 Compartment Model (ER-200530); (9) exploring the development of novel site characterization tools founded on cryogenic core collection and high-throughput core analysis; and (10) documenting results in guidance for contaminants in low permeability zones.

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Comprehensive strategies that consider all compartments containing chlorinated solvents, including those in low permeability zones, are expected to lead to improved decisions. This project will provide technical guidance for parties who are characterizing sites and selecting remedies at sites where contaminants are present in low permeability zones. It will also set a foundation for evaluating technologies that manage contaminants in low permeability zones and advance sound science for future site management policy. (Anticipated Project Completion - 2015)

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Tom Sale

Colorado State University

Phone: 970-491-8413

Fax: 970-491-8224

Program Manager

Environmental Restoration