Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4150

Assessment of Natural Attenuation of Ground-Water Contamination at Sites FT03, LF13, and WP14/LF15, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware

By Jeffrey R. Barbaro


This report is available as a pdf.



Water-quality, aquifer-sediment, and hydrologic data were used to assess the effectiveness of natural attenuation of ground-water contamination at Fire Training Area Three, the Rubble Area Landfill, the Liquid Waste Disposal Landfill, and the Receiver Station Landfill in the East Management Unit of Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. These sites, which are contaminated with chlorinated solvents and fuel hydrocarbons, are undergoing long-term monitoring to determine if natural attenuation continues to sufficiently reduce contaminant concentrations to meet regulatory requirements. This report is the first assessment of the effectiveness of natural attenuation at these sites since long-term monitoring began in 1999, and follows a preliminary investigation done in 1995-96. This assessment was done by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force.

Since 1995-96, additional information has been collected and used in the current assessment. The conclusions in this report are based primarily on ground-water samples collected from January through March 2000. Previous analytical results from selected wells, available geologic and geophysical well logs, and newly acquired information such as sediment organic-carbon measurements, hydraulic-conductivity measurements determined from slug tests on wells in the natural attenuation study area, and water-level measurements from surficial-aquifer wells also were used in this assessment. This information was used to: (1) calculate retardation factors and estimate contaminant migration velocities, (2) improve estimates of ground-water flow directions and inferred contaminant migration pathways, (3) better define the areal extent of contamination and the proximity of contaminants to discharge areas and the Base boundary, (4) develop a better understanding of the vertical variability of contaminant concentrations and redox conditions, (5) evaluate the effects of temporal changes on concentrations in the plumes and source areas, and (6) determine whether intrinsic biodegradation is occurring at these sites.

The water-quality data indicate that intrinsic biodegradation is occurring at all three sites. The strongest indication of intrinsic biodegradation is the detection of tetrachloroethene and trichloroethene breakdown products within and down-gradient of the source areas. The patterns of electron acceptors and metabolic by-products indicate that contaminant biodegradation has changed the prevailing geochemistry of the surficial aquifer, creating the strongly reducing conditions necessary for chlorinated solvent biodegradation. Geochemical changes include depleted dissolved oxygen and elevated ferrous iron and methane levels relative to concentrations in uncontaminated zones of the surficial aquifer. At Fire Training Area Three and the Rubble Area Landfill sites, natural attenuation appears to be adequate for controlling the migration of the contaminant plumes. At the third site, the Liquid Waste Disposal and Receiver Station Landfills, the plume is larger and the uncertainty about the effectiveness of natural attenuation in reducing contaminant concentrations and controlling plume migration is greater. Ground-water data indicate, however, that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant levels were not exceeded in any point-of-compliance wells located along the Base boundary.

The information presented in this report led to the development of improved conceptual models for these sites, and to the recognition of four issues that are currently unclear and may need further study. These issues include delineating the areal and vertical extent of the contaminant plumes in greater detail, determining the extent of intrinsic biodegradation downgradient of the Liquid Waste Disposal and Receiver Station Landfills, determining the fate of contaminants in the ground-water discharge areas, and determining the effect of temporal variability in source concentrations and ground-water flow patterns on the plume migrating from the Liquid Waste Disposal and Receiver Station Landfills. Some of these issues have been addressed with additional data collection since the January-March 2000 sampling round.





Purpose and scope

Description of study area

Previous studies


Data-collection methods

Monitoring network

Development of hydrogeologic framework

Hydrologic data collection

Sediment organic-carbon collection

Ground-water sample collection and analysis

Assessment of natural attenuation

Evidence of natural attenuation

Hydrogeologic framework

Dispersion, adsorption, and abiotic degradation

Intrinsic biodegradation

Areal distribution of electron acceptors and metabolic by-products

Areal distribution of fuel hydrocarbons

Areal distribution of chlorinated solvents

Site FT03

Site LF13

Site WP14/LF15

Temporal variability

Vertical distribution of selected compounds

Revised conceptual model and possible further study

Summary and conclusions

References cited

Appendix A. Hydraulic-head measurements from wells screened in the surficial aquifer in the East Management Unit, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, March 15-16, 2000

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For more information about USGS activities in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia contact:


MD-DE-DC Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
8987 Yellow Brick Road
Baltimore, MD 21237
Telephone: (410) 238-4200
Fax: (410) 238-4210


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Last modified: Thursday, September 01 2005, 02:21:18 PM
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