Evaluation of wastewater contaminant transport in surface waters using verified Lagrangian sampling

Science of the Total Environment
By: , and 



Contaminants released from wastewater treatment plants can persist in surface waters for substantial distances. Much research has gone into evaluating the fate and transport of these contaminants, but this work has often assumed constant flow from wastewater treatment plants. However, effluent discharge commonly varies widely over a 24-hour period, and this variation controls contaminant loading and can profoundly influence interpretations of environmental data. We show that methodologies relying on the normalization of downstream data to conservative elements can give spurious results, and should not be used unless it can be verified that the same parcel of water was sampled. Lagrangian sampling, which in theory samples the same water parcel as it moves downstream (the Lagrangian parcel), links hydrologic and chemical transformation processes so that the in-stream fate of wastewater contaminants can be quantitatively evaluated. However, precise Lagrangian sampling is difficult, and small deviations – such as missing the Lagrangian parcel by less than 1 h – can cause large differences in measured concentrations of all dissolved compounds at downstream sites, leading to erroneous conclusions regarding in-stream processes controlling the fate and transport of wastewater contaminants. Therefore, we have developed a method termed “verified Lagrangian” sampling, which can be used to determine if the Lagrangian parcel was actually sampled, and if it was not, a means for correcting the data to reflect the concentrations which would have been obtained had the Lagrangian parcel been sampled. To apply the method, it is necessary to have concentration data for a number of conservative constituents from the upstream, effluent, and downstream sites, along with upstream and effluent concentrations that are constant over the short-term (typically 2–4 h). These corrections can subsequently be applied to all data, including non-conservative constituents. Finally, we show how data from other studies can be corrected.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Evaluation of wastewater contaminant transport in surface waters using verified Lagrangian sampling
Series title Science of the Total Environment
DOI 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.09.079
Volume 470-471
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program, National Research Program - Central Branch
Description 8 p.
First page 551
Last page 558
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