Contamination of shallow ground water by sewage effluent typically contains reduced chemical species that consume dissolved oxygen, developing either a low oxygen geochemical environment or an anaerobic geochemical environment. Based on the load of reduced chemical species discharged to shallow ground water and the amounts of reactants in the aquifer matrix, it should be possible to determine chemical processes in the aquifer and compare observed results to predicted ones. At the Otis Air Base research site (Cape Cod, Massachusetts) where sewage effluent has infiltrated the shallow aquifer since 1936, bacterially mediated processes such as nitrification, denitrification, manganese reduction, and iron reduction have been observed in the contaminant plume. In specific areas of the plume, dissolved manganese and iron have increased significantly where local geochemical conditions are favorable for reduction and transport of these constituents from the aquifer matrix. Dissolved manganese and iron concentrations ranged from 0.02 to 7.3 mg/L, and 0.001 to 13.0 mg/L, respectively, for 21 samples collected from 1988 to 1989. Reduction of manganese and iron is linked to microbial oxidation of sewage carbon, producing bicarbonate and the dissolved metal ions as by-products. Calculated production and flux of CO2 through the unsaturated zone from manganese reduction in the aquifer was 0.035 g/m2/d (12% of measured CO2 flux during winter). Manganese is limited in the aquifer, however. A one-dimensional, reaction-coupled transport model developed for the mildly reducing conditions in the sewage plume nearest the source beds showed that reduction, transport, and removal of manganese from the aquifer sediments should result in iron reduction where manganese has been depleted.
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Reductive dissolution and reactive solute transport in a sewage-contaminated glacial outwash aquifer