Disposal of treated wastewater for more than 60 years onto infiltration beds on Cape Cod, Massachusetts produced a groundwater contaminant plume greater than 6 km long in a surficial sand and gravel aquifer. In December 1995 the wastewater disposal ceased. A long-term, continuous study was conducted to characterize the post-cessation attenuation of the plume from the source to 0.6 km downgradient. Concentrations and total pools of mobile constituents, such as boron and nitrate, steadily decreased within 1-4 years along the transect. Dissolved organic carbon loads also decreased, but to a lesser extent, particularly downgradient of the infiltration beds. After 4 years, concentrations and pools of carbon and nitrogen in groundwater were relatively constant with time and distance, but substantially elevated above background. The contaminant plume core remained anoxic for the entire 10-year study period; temporal patterns of integrated oxygen deficit decreased slowly at all sites. In 2004, substantial amounts of total dissolved carbon (7 mol C m-2) and fixed (dissolved plus sorbed) inorganic nitrogen (0.5 mol N m-2) were still present in a 28-m vertical interval at the disposal site. Sorbed constituents have contributed substantially to the dissolved carbon and nitrogen pools and are responsible for the long-term persistence of the contaminant plume. Natural aquifer restoration at the discharge location will take at least several decades, even though groundwater flow rates and the potential for contaminant flushing are relatively high.
Additional publication details
Long-term natural attenuation of carbon and nitrogen within a groundwater plume after removal of the treated wastewater source