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Water-Resources Investigations Report 02-4119

Natural Attenuation of Chlorinated Volatile Organic Compounds in Ground Water at Operable Unit 1, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Keyport, Washington

Prepared in cooperation with

By R.S. Dinicola, S.E. Cox, J.E. Landmeyer, and P.M. Bradley


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) evaluated the natural attenuation of chlorinated volatile organic compounds (CVOCs) in ground water beneath the former landfill at Operable Unit 1 (OU 1), Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Division Keyport, Washington. The predominant contaminants in ground water are trichloroethene (TCE) and its degradation byproducts cis-1,2-dichloroethene (cisDCE) and vinyl chloride (VC). The Navy planted two hybrid poplar plantations on the landfill in spring of 1999 to remove and control the migration of CVOCs in shallow ground water. Previous studies provided evidence that microbial degradation processes also reduce CVOC concentrations in ground water at OU 1, so monitored natural attenuation is a potential alternative remedy if phytoremediation is ineffective. This report describes the current (2000) understanding of natural attenuation of CVOCs in ground water at OU 1 and the impacts that phytoremediation activities to date have had on attenuation processes. The evaluation is based on ground-water and surface-water chemistry data and hydrogeologic data collected at the site by the USGS and Navy contractors between 1991 and 2000. Previously unpublished data collected by the USGS during 1996-2000 are presented.

Natural attenuation of CVOCs in shallow ground water at OU 1 is substantial. For 1999-2000 conditions, approximately 70 percent of the mass of dissolved chlorinated ethenes that was available to migrate from the landfill was completely degraded in shallow ground water before it could migrate to the intermediate aquifer or discharge to surface water. Attenuation of CVOC concentrations appears also to be substantial in the intermediate aquifer, but biodegradation appears to be less significant; those conclusions are less certain because of the paucity of data downgradient of the landfill beneath the tide flats. Attenuation of CVOC concentrations is also substantial in surface water as it flows through the adjacent marsh and out to the tide flats. Attenuation processes other than dilution reduce the CVOC flux in marsh surface water by about 40 percent by the time the water discharges to the tide flats. Despite the importance of natural attenuation processes at reducing both the contaminant concentrations and the contaminant mass at OU 1, natural attenuation alone was not effective enough in the year 2000 to meet current numerical remediation goals for the site. That was in part due to the relatively short distance between the landfill and the adjacent marsh, and in part due to the extremely high CVOC concentrations directly beneath the landfill.

Phytoremediation activities had some apparent effect on contaminant concentrations in ground water and surface water, but ground-water redox conditions to date (2000) were not affected by the February 1999 asphalt removal for tree planting. The poplar trees in the phytoremediation plantations were not yet mature in 2000, so the lack of discernible changes to date is understandable. Concentration changes of some redox-sensitive compounds suggest that increased recharge following asphalt removal diluted ambient landfill ground water. CVOC concentrations increased in some downgradient wells in both the northern and southern plantations after asphalt removal, whereas CVOC concentrations decreased in some upgradient wells in the southern plantation. A clear increase in CVOC concentrations in marsh surface water followed asphalt removal, apparently from increased contaminant discharge in ground water beneath the southern plantation.

The results of the natural attenuation evaluation suggest than minor modifications to the current sampling plan may be beneficial to understanding the future impacts of phytoremediation and natural attenuation on the fate and distribution of CVOCs at OU 1.


Executive Summary
Redox Conditions in Contaminated Ground Water
Natural Attenuation in Ground Water
Methods of Data Analysis
Hydrogeologic and Geochemical Characterization for Natural Attenuation
Evaluation of Natural Attenuation
References Cited
Appendix A. Quality Assurance and Control of U.S. Geological Survey Geochemical Sampling

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Send questions or comments about this report to the author, Richard Dinicola ( 253.428.3600 ext. 2603.

For more information about USGS activities in Washington, visit the USGS Washington District home page.

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