Delineation of ground-water contamination using soil-gas analyses near Jackson, Tennessee

U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Resources Investigations Report 90-4137

by Roger W. Lee

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An investigation of the ground-water resources near Jackson, West Tennessee, was conducted during 1988-89. The study included determination of the occurrence of contaminants in the shallow aquifer using soil-gas analyses in the unsaturated zone. Between 1980 and 1988, an underground fuel-storage tank leaked about 3,000 gallons of unleaded fuel to the water table about 4 feet below land surface. A survey of soil gas using a gas chromatograph equipped with a photoionization detector showed concentrations of volatile organic compounds greater than IO, 000 parts per million near the leak These compounds were detected in an area about 240 feet long and 110 feet wide extending west from the point source. The chromatograms provided two distinct "fingerprints" of volatile organic compounds. The first revealed the presence of benzene, toluene, andxylenes, which are constituents of unleaded fuel, in addition to other volatile compounds, in soil gas in the area near the leak The second did not reveal any detectable benzene, toluene, or xylenes in the soil-gas samples, but showed the presence of other unidentified volatile organic compounds in soil gas north of the storage tank. The distribution of total concentrations of volatile organic compounds in the unsaturated zone indicated that a second plume about 200 feet long and 90 feet wide was present about 100 feet north of the storage tank The second plume could have been the result of previous activities at this site during the 1950's or earlier. Activities at the site are believed to have included storage of solvents used at the nearby railyard and flushing of tanks containing tar onto a gravel-covered parking area. The delineation of these plumes has shown that soil-gas analyses can be a useful technique for identifying areas of contamination with volatile organic compounds in shallow water-table aquifers and may have broad applications in similar situations where the water table is relatively close to the surface.

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