Field tests of polyethylene-membrane diffusion sampler for characterizing volatile organic compounds in stream-bottom sediments, Nyanza chemical waste dump superfund site, Ashland, Massachusetts

U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4108

Forest P. Lyford, Richard E. Willey, and Scott Clifford

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A plume of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in ground water extends from the Nyanza Chemical Waste Dump Superfund site in Ashland, Massachusetts, northward toward a mill pond on the Sudbury River and eastward toward the Sudbury River and former mill raceway downstream from the mill pond. Polyethylene-membrane water-to-vapor (vapor) and water-to-water (water) diffusion samplers were installed January 1999 in bottom sediments along the Sudbury River and former mill raceway in a pilot study to determine if vapor samplers would be useful in this setting for delineating a plume of contaminants in ground water near the river and raceway, to evaluate equilibration time for vapor-diffusion samplers, and to determine if diffusion samplers might be an alternative to seepage meters (inverted steel drums) and sediment sampling for evaluating concentrations of VOCs in bottom sediments.

Of five tested compounds (benzene, trichloroethene, toluene, tetrachloroethene, and chlorobenzene), chlorobenzene and trichloroethene were most frequently detected in vapor from vapor-diffusion samplers. The distribution of VOCs was generally consistent with a previously mapped plume of contaminants in ground water. The field evaluation of equilibration times for vapor-diffusion samplers was inconclusive because of changing hydrologic conditions that may have affected concentrations of VOCs, possible variations in concentrations ofVOCs over short distances, and imprecise sampling and analytical methods. The limited data, however, indicated that equilibration may require 3 weeks or more in some settings.

VOCs detected in samples from water-diffusion samplers and their concentrations were comparable to results from seepage meters, and VOCs detected in vapor-diffusion samplers correlated with VOCs detected in water-diffusion samplers. These results indicate that either vapor-or water-diffusion samplers would serve as an economical alternative to seepage meters for sampling of VOCs in pore water from stream-bottom sediments. Results from diffusion samplers correlated poorly with results from sediment samples, partly because of high quantitation limits for chemical analyses of sediments. In general, results from the diffusion samplers better represented the distribution of VOCs than the results from the sediment samples. This pilot study indicates that diffusion samplers are an economical means of identifying "hotspots" for contaminants in bottom sediments and can provide insights on transport pathways for contaminants near surface-water bodies. After establishing equilibration times for a particular site, diffusion samplers also may be useful for studying variations in concentrations of VOCs over short distances, variations with time and changing hydrologic conditions, and processes such as chemical transformations by biodegradation and exchanges between surface water and ground water in the hyporheic zone.

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