Ground water at the Norman Landfill Research Site is contaminated by a leachate plume emanating from a closed, unlined landfill formerly operated by the city of Norman, Oklahoma, Ground water contaminated by the leachate plume is known to be elevated in the concentration of many, organic and inorganic constituents. Specific conductance, alkalinity, chloride, dissolved organic carbon, boron, sodium, strontium, and deuterium in ground water are considered to be indicators of the leachate plume at this site.
Leaf samples of broad-leafed cottonwood, Populus deltoides, were collected from 57 sites around the closed landfill. Cottonwood, a phreatophyte or “well plant,” functions as a & surrogate well and serves as a ground water quality sampler. The leaf samples were combusted to ash and analyzed by instrumental neutron activation for 35 elements and by prompt-gamma instrumental neutron activation, for boron. A monitoring well was located within a few meters of a sampled cottonwood tree at 15 of the 57 sites, and ground water samples were collected from these monitoring wells simultaneously with a leaf sample. The chemical analyses of the ground water and leaf samples from these 15 sites indicated that boron, bromine, sodium, and strontium concentrations in leaves were significantly correlated with leachate indicator constituents in ground water. A point-plot map of selected percentiles indicated high concentrations of boron, bromine, and sodium in leaf ash from sites downgradient of the most recent landfill and from older landfills nearby.
Data from leaf analysis greatly extended the known areal extent of the leachate plume previously determined from a network of monitoring wells and geophysical surveys. This phytosgeochemical study provided a cost-effective method for assessing the extent of a leachate plume from an old landfill. Such a method may be useful as a preliminary sampling tool to guide the design of hydrogeochemical and geophysical studies.
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Elements in cottonwood trees as an indicator of ground water contaminated by landfill leachate