Hydrogeology, Ground-Water Quality, and Potential for Water-Supply Contamination Near The Selby County Landfill in Memphis, Tennessee

U.S. Geological Survey, Water-Resources Investigations Report 91-4173

by William S. Parks and June E. Mirecki

This report is available as a pdf below


An investigation was conducted from 1989 to 1991 to collect and interpret hydrogeologic and ground-water-quality data specific to the Shelby County landfill in east Memphis, Tennessee. Eighteen wells were installed in the alluvial and Memphis aquifers at the landfill. Hydrogeologic data collected showed that the confining unit separating the alluvial aquifer from the Memphis aquifer was thin or absent just north of the landfill and elsewhere consists predominantly of fine sand and silt with lenses of clay.

A water-table map of the landfill vicinity confirms the existence of a depression in the water table north and northeast of the landfill and indicates that ground water flows northeast from the Wolf River passing beneath the landfill toward the depression in the water table. A map of the potentiometric surface of the Memphis aquifer shows that water levels were anomalously high just north of the landfill, indicating downward leakage of water from the alluvial aquifer to the Memphis aquifer.

An analysis of water-quality data for major and trace inorganic constituents and nutrients confirms that leachate from the landfill has migrated northeastward in the alluvial aquifer toward the depression in the water table and that contaminants in the alluvial aquifer have migrated downward into the Memphis aquifer.

The leachate plume can be characterized by concentrations of certain major and trace inorganic constituents that are 2 to 20 times higher than samples from upgradient and background alluvial aquifer wells. The major and trace constituents that best characterize the leachate plume are total organic carbon, chloride, dissolved solids, iron, ammonia nitrogen, calcium, sodium, iodide, barium, strontium, boron, and cadmium.

Several of these constituents (specifically dissolved solids, calcium, sodium, and possibly ammonia nitrogen, chloride, barium, and strontium) were detected in elevated concentrations in samples from certain Memphis aquifer wells. Elevated concentrations were detected in samples from the Memphis aquifer beneath the leachate plume where the confining unit is thin or absent.

The distribution of halogenated alkanes (specifically dichlorodifluoromethane and trichlorofluoromethane) and halogenated alkenes (specifically 1,2-trans-dichloroethene and vinyl chloride) in samples from wells screened in both the alluvial and Memphis aquifers is similar to the distribution of major and trace inorganic constituents that characterize the leachate plume.

The ground-water supply most susceptible to contamination from the Shelby County landfill is the Sheahan well field of the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division. This well field is about 5 miles downgradient from the landfill in the direction of ground-water flow. Based on an estimated velocity of 0.5 to 1.5 feet per day, ground water would require about 50 to 150 years to travel from the Shelby County landfill to the Sheahan wellfield. Given the time and distance of transport, any contaminants in the ground water would not likely persistto reach this well field because of the effects of various physical, chemical, and biological processes, including dilution and adsorption.

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