Contaminant Back Diffusion from Low-Conductivity Matrices: Case Studies of Remedial Strategies

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Recalcitrant groundwater contamination is a common problem at hazardous waste sites worldwide. Groundwater contamination persists despite decades of remediation efforts at many sites because contaminants sorbed or dissolved within low-conductivity zones can back diffuse into high-conductivity zones, and therefore act as a continuing source of contamination to flowing groundwater. A review of the available literature on remediation of plume persistence due to back diffusion was conducted, and four sites were selected as case studies. Remediation at the sites included pump and treat, enhanced bioremediation, and thermal treatment. Our review highlights that a relatively small number of sites have been studied in sufficient detail to fully evaluate remediation of back diffusion; however, three general conclusions can be made based on the review. First, it is difficult to assess the significance of back diffusion without sufficient data to distinguish between multiple factors contributing to contaminant rebound and plume persistence. Second, high-resolution vertical samples are decidedly valuable for back diffusion assessment but are generally lacking in post-treatment assessments. Third, complete contaminant mass removal from back diffusion sources may not always be possible. Partial contaminant mass removal may nonetheless have potential benefits, similar to partial mass removal from primary DNAPL source zones.

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Water (Switzerland)