The vulnerability of public supply wells to chlorinated ethene (CE) contamination in part depends on the availability of naturally occurring organic carbon to consume dissolved oxygen (DO) and initiate reductive dechlorination. This was quantified by building a mass balance model of the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer, which is widely used for public water supply in New Jersey. This model was built by telescoping a calibrated regional three-dimensional (3D) MODFLOW model to the approximate capture zone of a single public supply well that has a history of CE contamination. This local model was then used to compute a mass balance between dissolved organic carbon (DOC), particulate organic carbon (POC), and adsorbed organic carbon (AOC) that act as electron donors and DO, CEs, ferric iron, and sulfate that act as electron acceptors (EAs) using the Sequential Electron Acceptor Model in three dimensions (SEAM3D) code. SEAM3D was constrained by varying concentrations of DO and DOC entering the aquifer via recharge, varying the bioavailable fraction of POC in aquifer sediments, and comparing observed and simulated vertical concentration profiles of DO and DOC. This procedure suggests that approximately 15% of the POC present in aquifer materials is readily bioavailable. Model simulations indicate that transport of perchloroethene (PCE) and its daughter products trichloroethene (TCE), cis-dichloroethene (cis-DCE), and vinyl chloride (VC) to the public supply well is highly sensitive to the assumed bioavailable fraction of POC, concentrations of DO entering the aquifer with recharge, and the position of simulated PCE source areas in the flow field. The results are less sensitive to assumed concentrations of DOC in aquifer recharge. The mass balance approach used in this study also indicates that hydrodynamic processes such as advective mixing, dispersion, and sorption account for a significant amount of the observed natural attenuation in this system.
Additional publication details
Modeling the effects of naturally occurring organic carbon on chlorinated ethene transport to a public supply well