Measurements of low-level concentrations of halogenated volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and estimates of groundwater age interpreted from 3H/3He and SF6 data have led to an improved understanding of groundwater flow, water sources, and transit times in a karstic, fractured, carbonate-rock aquifer at the Leetown Science Center (LSC), West Virginia. The sum of the concentrations of a set of 16 predominant halogenated VOCs (TDVOC) determined by gas chromatography with electron-capture detector (GC–ECD) exceeded that possible for air–water equilibrium in 34 of the 47 samples (median TDVOC of 24,800 pg kg−1), indicating that nearly all the water sampled in the vicinity of the LSC has been affected by addition of halogenated VOCs from non-atmospheric source(s). Leakage from a landfill that was closed and sealed nearly 20 a prior to sampling was recognized and traced to areas east of the LSC using low-level detection of tetrachloroethene (PCE), methyl chloride (MeCl), methyl chloroform (MC), dichlorodifluoromethane (CFC-12), and cis-1,2-dichloroethene (cis-1,2-DCE). Chloroform (CHLF) was the predominant VOC in water from domestic wells surrounding the LSC, and was elevated in groundwater in and near the Fish Health Laboratory at the LSC, where a leak of chlorinated water occurred prior to 2006. The low-level concentrations of halogenated VOCs did not exceed human or aquatic-life health criteria, and were useful in providing an awareness of the intrinsic susceptibility of the fractured karstic groundwater system at the LSC to non-atmospheric anthropogenic inputs. The 3H/3He groundwater ages of spring discharge from the carbonate rocks showed transient behavior, with ages averaging about 2 a in 2004 following a wet climatic period (2003–2004), and ages in the range of 4–7 a in periods of more average precipitation (2008–2009). The SF6 and CFC-12 data indicate older water (model ages of 10s of years or more) in the low-permeability shale of the Martinsburg Formation located to the west of the LSC. A two-a record of specific conductance, water temperature, and discharge recorded at 30-min intervals demonstrated an approximately 3-month lag in discharge at Gray Spring. The low groundwater ages of waters from the carbonate rocks support rapid advective transport of contaminants from the LSC vicinity, yet the nearly ubiquitous occurrence of low-level concentrations of halogenated VOCs at the LSC suggests the presence of long-term persistent sources, such as seepage from the closed and sealed landfill, infiltration of VOCs that may persist locally in the epikarst, exchange with low-permeability zones in fractured rock, and upward leakage of older water that may contain elevated concentrations of halogenated VOCs from earlier land use activities.
Additional publication details
Tracing groundwater with low-level detections of halogenated VOCs in a fractured carbonate-rock aquifer, Leetown Science Center, West Virginia, USA