To evaluate diffusion sampling as an alternative method to monitor volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations in ground water, concentrations in samples collected by traditional pumped-sampling methods were compared to concentrations in samples collected by diffusion-sampling methods for 89 monitoring wells at or near the Massachusetts Military Reservation, Cape Cod. Samples were analyzed for 36 VOCs. There was no substantial difference between the utility of diffusion and pumped samples to detect the presence or absence of a VOC. In wells where VOCs were detected, diffusion-sample concentrations of tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) were significantly lower than pumped-sample concentrations. Because PCE and TCE concentrations detected in the wells dominated the calculation of many of the total VOC concentrations, when VOC concentrations were summed and compared by sampling method, visual inspection also showed a downward concentration bias in the diffusion-sample concentration.
The degree to which pumped- and diffusion-sample concentrations agreed was not a result of variability inherent within the sampling methods or the diffusion process itself. A comparison of the degree of agreement in the results from the two methods to 13 quantifiable characteristics external to the sampling methods offered only well-screen length as being related to the degree of agreement between the methods; however, there is also evidence to indicate that the flushing rate of water through the well screen affected the agreement between the sampling methods. Despite poor agreement between the concentrations obtained by the two methods at some wells, the degree to which the concentrations agree at a given well is repeatable. A one-time, well-bywell comparison between diffusion- and pumped-sampling methods could determine which wells are good candidates for the use of diffusion samplers. For wells with good method agreement, the diffusion-sampling method is a time-saving and cost-effective alternative to pumped-sampling methods in a long-term monitoring program, such as at the Massachusetts Military Reservation.