Evaluation of volatilization as a natural attenuation pathway for MTBE

Groundwater
By: , and 

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Abstract

Volatilization and diffusion through the unsaturated zone can be an important pathway for natural attenuation remediation of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) at gasoline spill sites. The significance of this pathway depends primarily on the distribution of immiscible product within the unsaturated zone and the relative magnitude of aqueous-phase advection (ground water recharge) to gaseous-phase diffusion. At a gasoline spill site in Laurel Bay, South Carolina, rates of MTBE volatilization from ground water downgradient from the source are estimated by analyzing the distribution of MTBE in the unsaturated zone above a solute plume. Volatilization rates of MTBE from ground water determined by transport modeling ranged from 0.0020 to 0.0042 g m-2/year, depending on the assumed rate of ground water recharge. Although diffusive conditions at the Laurel Bay site are favorable for volatilization, mass loss of MTBE is insignificant over the length (230 m) of the solute plume. Based on this analysis, significant volatilization of MTBE from ground water downgradient from source areas at other sites is not likely. In contrast, model results indicate that volatilization coupled with diffusion to the atmosphere could be a significant mass loss pathway for MTBE in source areas where residual product resides above the capillary zone. Although not documented, mass loss of MTBE at the Laurel Bay site due to volatilization and diffusion to the atmosphere are predicted to be two to three times greater than mass loading of MTBE to ground water due to dissolution and recharge. This result would imply that volatilization in the source zone may be the critical natural attenuation pathway for MTBE at gasoline spill sites, especially when considering capillary zone limitations on volatilization of MTBE from ground water and the relative recalcitrance of MTBE to biodegradation.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Evaluation of volatilization as a natural attenuation pathway for MTBE
Series title Groundwater
DOI 10.1111/j.1745-6584.2004.tb02672.x
Volume 42
Issue 2
Year Published 2004
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 10 p.
First page 258
Last page 267