Investigations of groundwater system and simulation of regional groundwater flow for North Penn Area 7 Superfund site, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5045

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency



Groundwater in the vicinity of several industrial facilities in Upper Gwynedd Township and vicinity, Montgomery County, in southeast Pennsylvania has been shown to be contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the most common of which is the solvent trichloroethylene (TCE). The 2-square-mile area was placed on the National Priorities List as the North Penn Area 7 Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) in 1989. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted geophysical logging, aquifer testing, and water-level monitoring, and measured streamflows in and near North Penn Area 7 from fall 2000 through fall 2006 in a technical assistance study for the USEPA to develop an understanding of the hydrogeologic framework in the area as part of the USEPA Remedial Investigation. In addition, the USGS developed a groundwater-flow computer model based on the hydrogeologic framework to simulate regional groundwater flow and to estimate directions of groundwater flow and pathways of groundwater contaminants. The study area is underlain by Triassic- and Jurassic-age sandstones and shales of the Lockatong Formation and Brunswick Group in the Mesozoic Newark Basin. Regionally, these rocks strike northeast and dip to the northwest. The sequence of rocks form a fractured-sedimentary-rock aquifer that acts as a set of confined to partially confined layers of differing permeabilities. Depth to competent bedrock typically is less than 20 ft below land surface. The aquifer layers are recharged locally by precipitation and discharge locally to streams. The general configuration of the potentiometric surface in the aquifer is similar to topography, except in areas affected by pumping. The headwaters of Wissahickon Creek are nearby, and the stream flows southwest, parallel to strike, to bisect North Penn Area 7. Groundwater is pumped in the vicinity of North Penn Area 7 for industrial use, public supply, and residential supply. Results of field investigations by USGS at the site and results from other studies support, and are consistent with, a conceptual model of a layered leaky aquifer where the dip of the beds has a strong control on hydraulic connections in the groundwater system. Connections within and (or) parallel to bedding tend to be greater than across bedding. Transmissivities of aquifer intervals isolated by packers ranged over three orders of magnitude [from about 2.8 to 2,290 square feet per day (ft2/d) or 0.26 to 213 square meters per day (m2/d)], did not appear to differ much by mapped geologic unit, but showed some relation to depth being relatively smaller in the shallowest and deepest intervals (0 to 50 ft and more than 250 ft below land surface, respectively) compared to the intermediate depth intervals (50 to 250 ft below land surface) tested. Transmissivities estimated from multiple-observation well aquifer tests ranged from about 700 to 2,300 ft2/d (65 to 214 m2/d). Results of chemical analyses of water from isolated intervals or monitoring wells open to short sections of the aquifer show vertical differences in concentrations; chloride and silica concentrations generally were greater in shallow intervals than in deeper intervals. Chloride concentrations greater than 100 milligrams per liter (mg/L), combined with distinctive chloride/bromide ratios, indicate a different source of chloride in the western part of North Penn Area 7 than elsewhere in the site. Groundwater flow at a regional scale under steady-state conditions was simulated by use of a numerical model (MODFLOW-2000) for North Penn Area 7 with different layers representing saprolite/highly weathered rock near the surface and unweathered competent bedrock. The sedimentary formations that underlie the study area were modeled using dipping model layers for intermediate and deep zones of unweathered, fractured rock. Horizontal cell model size was 100 meters (m) by 100 meters (328 ft by 328 ft), and model layer thickness ranged from 6 m (19.7 ft) representing shallow weathered rock and saprolite up to 200 m (656 ft) representing deeper dipping bedrock. The model did not include detailed structure to account for local-scale differences in hydraulic properties, with the result that local-scale groundwater flow may not be well simulated. Additional detailed multi-well aquifer tests would be needed to establish the extent of interconnection between intervals at the local scale to address remediation of contamination at each source area. This regional groundwater-flow model was calibrated against measured groundwater levels (1996, 2000, and 2005) and base flow estimated from selected streamflow measurements by use of nonlinear-regression parameter-estimation algorithms to determine hydraulic conductivity and anisotropy of hydraulic conductivity, streambed hydraulic conductivity, and recharge during calibration periods. Results of the simulation using the calibrated regional model indicate that the aquifer appears to be anisotropic where hydraulic conductivity is greatest parallel to the orientation of bedding of the formations underlying the area and least in the cross-bed direction. The maximum hydraulic conductivity is aligned with the average regional strike of the formations, which is “subhorizontal” in the model because the altitudes of the beds and model cells vary in the strike, as well as dip, direction. Estimated subhorizontal hydraulic conductivities (in strike direction parallel to dipping beds) range from 0.001 to 1.67 meters per day (0.0032 to 5.5 feet per day). The ratio of minimum (dip direction) to maximum (strike direction) subhorizontal hydraulic conductivity ranges from 1/3.1 to 1/8.6, and the ratio of vertical to horizontal hydraulic conductivity ranges from 1/1 to 1/478. However, limited available field data precluded rigorous calibration of vertical anisotropy in the model. Estimated recharge rates corresponding to calibration periods in 1996, 2000, and 2005 are 150, 109, and 124 millimeters per year (5.9, 4.3, and 4.9 inches per year), respectively. The calibrated groundwater-flow model was used to simulate groundwater flow under steady-state conditions during periods of relatively high withdrawals (pumpage) (1990) and relatively low withdrawals (2000 and 2005). Groundwater-flow paths originating from recharge areas near known areas of soil contamination (sources) were simulated. Pumped industrial and production wells captured more groundwater from several of these sources during 1990 than after 1990 when pumping declined or ceased and greater amounts of contaminated groundwater moved away from North Penn Area 7 Superfund site to surrounding areas. Uncertainty in simulated groundwater-flow paths from contaminant sources and contributing areas, resulting from uncertainty in estimated hydraulic properties of the model, was illustrated through Monte Carlo simulations. The effect of uncertainty in the vertical anisotropy was not included in the Monte Carlo simulations. Contributing areas indicating the general configuration of groundwater flow towards production well MG-202 (L-22) in the study area also were simulated for the different time periods; as simulated, the flow paths do not pass through any identified contaminant source in North Penn Area 7. However, contributing areas to wells, such as MG-202, located near many pumped wells are particularly complex and, in some cases, include areas that contribute flow to streams that subsequently recharge the aquifer through stream loss. In these cases, water-quality constituents, including contaminants that are present in surface water may be drawn into the aquifer to nearby pumped wells. Results of a simulated shutdown of well MG-202 under steady-state 2005 conditions showed that the area contributing recharge for nearby production well MG-76 (L-17), when MG-202 is not pumping, shifts downstream and is similar to the area contributing recharge for MG-202 when both wells are pumping. Concentrations of constituents in groundwater samples collected in fall 2005 or spring 2006 were compared to simulated groundwater-flow paths for the year 2005 to provide a qualitative assessment of model results. The observed spatial distribution of selected constituents, including TCE, CFC-11, and CFC-113 in groundwater in 2005 and the chloride/bromide mass ratios in 2006, generally were consistent with the model results of the simulated 2005 groundwater-flow paths at North Penn Area 7, indicating the presence of several separate sources of contaminants within North Penn Area 7.

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Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Investigations of groundwater system and simulation of regional groundwater flow for North Penn Area 7 Superfund site, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Pennsylvania Water Science Center
xii, 95 p.
Number of Pages:
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
United States
Upper Gwynedd
North American Datum of 1927
Universal Transverse Mercator, Zone 18
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