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Field Tests of Nylon-Screen Diffusion Samplers and Pushpoint Samplers for Detection of Metals in Sediment Pore Water, Ashland and Clinton, Massachusetts, 2003

U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5155

By Marc J. Zimmerman, Don A. Vroblesky, Kimberly W. Campo, Andrew J. Massey, and Walter Scheible

In cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Measurement and Monitoring for the 21st Century Initiative

This report is available as a pdf.


Efficient and economical screening methods are needed to detect and to determine the approximate concentrations of potentially toxic trace-element metals in shallow groundwater- discharge areas (pore water) where the metals may pose threats to aquatic organisms; such areas are likely to be near hazardous-waste sites. Pushpoint and nylon-screen diffusion samplers are two complementary options for use in such environments.

The pushpoint sampler, a simple well point, is easy to insert manually and to use. Only 1 day is required to collect samples. The nylon-screen diffusion sampler is well suited for use in sediments that do not allow a pump to draw water into a pushpoint sampler. In this study, both types of devices were used in sediments suitable for the use of the pushpoint sampler. Sampling with the nylon-screen diffusion sampler requires at least two site visits: one to deploy the samplers in the sediment, and a second to retrieve the samplers and collect the samples after a predetermined equilibration period.

Extensive laboratory quality-control studies, field testing, and laboratory analysis of samples collected at the Nyanza Chemical Waste Dump Superfund site along the Sudbury River in Ashland, Massachusetts, and at a Superfund site-assessment location on Rigby Brook in Clinton, Massachusetts, indicate that these two devices yield comparable results for most metals and should be effective tools for pore-water studies. The nylon-screen diffusion samplers equilibrated within 1-2 days in homogeneous, controlled conditions in the laboratory. Nylon-screen diffusion samplers that were not purged of dissolved oxygen prior to deployment yielded results similar to those that were purged. Further testing of the nylon-screen diffusion samplers in homogeneous media would help to resolve any ambiguities about the data variability from the field studies.

Comparison of data from replicate samples taken in both study areas shows that even samples taken from sites within a half-meter radius of one another have distinct differences in pore-water trace-element concentrations. Sequential replicate samples collected with the pushpoint sampler yield consistent results; moving the pushpoint sampler even 5 to 10 centimeters, however, generally produces a second set of data that differs enough from the first set of data to indicate a heterogeneous environment. High concentration biases for barium and zinc in laboratory and field samples collected with nylon-screen diffusion samplers, however, may make their use inappropriate for studies of these metals.

Analyzing samples with high iron concentrations required sample dilution by factors of 2 or 10. Because these dilutions caused increases in the reporting levels by the same proportion, a substantial fraction of the data was censored. The results from undiluted samples, however, indicate that both devices should be useful for sampling ground water with metal concentrations close to reporting limits.

Table of Contents



Study Areas

Study Design

Preliminary Laboratory Testing and Analysis

Sampler Equilibration

Equipment Blanks

Sediment Pore Water Field-Sampling Techniques

Nylon-Screen Diffusion Samplers

Pushpoint Samplers

Site Selections

Quality-Control Sampling and Results

Comparison of Metal Concentrations in Pore Water Collected with Nylon-Screen Diffusion and Pushpoint Samplers

Time Series of Nylon-Screen Diffusion Sampler Data

Comparison of all Nylon-Screen Diffusion Samples and Pushpoint Samples by Site

Summary and Conclusions


References Cited


Suggested Citation:


Zimmerman, M.J., Vroblesky, D.A., Campo, K.W., Massey, A.J., and Scheible, Walter, 2005, Field Tests of Nylon-
Screen Diffusion Samplers and Pushpoint Samplers for Detection of Metals in Sediment Pore Water, Ashland and
Clinton, Massachusetts, 2003: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2005-5155, 51 p.


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