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Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4060

Natural Attenuation of Chlorinated Volatile Organic Compounds in Ground Water at Area 6, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington

Prepared in cooperation with
Department of the Navy Engineering Field Activity,
Northwest Naval Facilities Engineering Command

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


Natural attenuation is a viable alternative to pump and treat for meeting remediation objectives in the vicinity of the southern contaminant plume. The combination of historically low contaminant concentrations in ground water, a landfill cap that limits source area contributions, favorable conditions for degradation of VC, and a relatively long downgradient distance to potential receptors are all favorable for natural attenuation as a remediation alternative. Natural attenuation could effectively meet all but one remediation goal that extraction wells PW- 2, PW-4, PW-6, PW-7, PW-8 and PW-9 are currently being employed to meet. The goal of preventing migration of all VC across the site boundary could not be met by natural attenuation. Some VC would migrate south of the Navy boundary, but the potential for subsequent VC mineralization downgradient of the base and the existing institutional controls would result in minimal additional risk from using natural attenuation.

In the western contaminant plume natural attenuation is not currently a viable alternative to pump and treat for meeting remediation objectives. There is a possibility that rates for reductive dechlorination of TCE and TCA could increase substantially if the plume was allowed to migrate beneath the Oak Harbor landfill, but there are not enough data to be certain of such an increase. TCA and TCE concentrations at the leading edge of the western plume need to be reduced to at least 25 and 40 g/L, respectively, to be protective of potential downgradient receptors. Source area TCA and TCE concentrations have decreased substantially over the past ten years, and the extraction wells PW-3 and PW-5 in particular are removing a significant mass of contaminants from ground water, so natural attenuation may be a viable alternative for the western plume in the future.

There would be some possible side benefits of using natural attenuation as an alternative to pump and treat in the southern contaminant plume. The first would be that the resulting decrease in the amount of treated water that would need to be recharged in the swale north of the landfill would result in less off-base migration of contamination across the western site boundary. The second benefit would be a substantial reduction in the amount of dissolved iron and manganese being extracted from the shallow aquifer and run through the treatment system. Removing that source of operation and maintenance problems would result in more effective containment and removal of contamination in the western contaminant plume. The most critical data gap identified in this evaluation is the paucity of contaminant chemistry information downgradient of the Navy boundary in the vicinity of the southern contaminant plume. Without such data, the behavior of the plume and the protectiveness of natural attenuation to downgradient receptors cannot be verified, and field attenuation rates for VC cannot be determined directly. The existing long-term monitoring plan would need to be reviewed and revised if natural attenuation is selected as a remedy for the contamination in the southern plume. In particular, additional performance monitoring wells may be required downgradient of the property.


Background on Redox (Oxidation-Reduction) Conditions in Ground Water
Background on Natural Attenuation Processes in Ground Water
Methods and Data Analysis
Conceptual Model of Natural Attenuation at Area 6
Site Characterization Related to Natural Attenuation
Evidence for Natural Attenuation
Effectiveness of Natural Attenuation
References Cited

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Send questions or comments about this report to the author, R.S. Dinicola, (253) 428-3600 ext. 2603 or S.E. Cox, (253) 428-3600 ext. 2623.

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

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