Using groundwater age distributions to understand changes in methyl tert-butyl ether (MtBE) concentrations in ambient groundwater, northeastern United States

Science of the Total Environment
By: , and 

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Abstract

Temporal changes in methyl tert-butyl ether (MtBE) concentrations in groundwater were evaluated in the northeastern United States, an area of the nation with widespread low-level detections of MtBE based on a national survey of wells selected to represent ambient conditions. MtBE use in the U.S. peaked in 1999 and was largely discontinued by 2007. Six well networks, each representing specific areas and well types (monitoring or supply wells), were each sampled at 10 year intervals between 1996 and 2012. Concentrations were decreasing or unchanged in most wells as of 2012, with the exception of a small number of wells where concentrations continue to increase. Statistically significant increasing concentrations were found in one network sampled for the second time shortly after the peak of MtBE use, and decreasing concentrations were found in two networks sampled for the second time about 10 years after the peak of MtBE use. Simulated concentrations from convolutions of estimates for concentrations of MtBE in recharge water with age distributions from environmental tracer data correctly predicted the direction of MtBE concentration changes in about 65 percent of individual wells. The best matches between simulated and observed concentrations were found when simulating recharge concentrations that followed the pattern of national MtBE use. Some observations were matched better when recharge was modeled as a plume moving past the well from a spill at one point in time. Modeling and sample results showed that wells with young median ages and narrow age distributions responded more quickly to changes in the contaminant source than wells with older median ages and broad age distributions. Well depth and aquifer type affect these responses. Regardless of the timing of decontamination, all of these aquifers show high susceptibility for contamination by a highly soluble, persistent constituent.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Using groundwater age distributions to understand changes in methyl tert-butyl ether (MtBE) concentrations in ambient groundwater, northeastern United States
Series title Science of the Total Environment
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.11.058
Volume 579
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) National Water Quality Assessment Program, California Water Science Center
Description 9 p.
First page 579
Last page 587
Country United States