This study examined volatile organic compound concentrations in cores from trees and shrubs for use as indicators of vadose-zone contamination or potential vapor intrusion by volatile organic compounds into buildings at the Durham Meadows Superfund Site, Durham, Connecticut. The study used both (1) real-time tree- and shrub-core analysis, which involved field heating the core samples for 5 to 10 minutes prior to field analysis, and (2) delayed analysis, which involved allowing the gases in the cores to equilibrate with the headspace gas in the sample vials unheated for 1 to 2 days prior to analysis. General correspondence was found between the two approaches, indicating that preheating and field analysis of vegetation cores is a viable approach to real-time monitoring of subsurface volatile organic compounds. In most cases, volatile organic compounds in cores from trees and shrubs at the Merriam Manufacturing Company property showed a general correspondence to the distribution of volatile organic compounds detected in a soil-gas survey, despite the fact that most of the soil-gas survey data in close proximity to the relevant trees were collected about 3 years prior to the tree-core collection. Most of the trees cored at the Durham Meadows Superfund Site, outside of the Merriam Manufacturing Company property, contained no volatile organic compounds and were in areas where indoor air sampling and soil-gas sampling showed little or no volatile organic compound concentrations. An exception was tree DM11, which contained barely detectable concentrations of trichloroethene near a house where previous investigations found low concentrations of trichloroethene (0.13 to 1.2 parts per billion by volume) in indoor air and 7.7 micrograms per liter of trichloroethene in the ground water. The barely detectable concentration of trichloroethene in tree DM11 and the lack of volatile organic compound detection in nearby tree DM10 (adjacent to the well having 7.7 micrograms of trichloroethene) may be attributable to the relatively large depth to water (17.6 feet), the relatively low soil-vapor trichloroethene concentration, and the large amount of rainfall during and preceding the tree-coring event. The data indicate that real-time and delayed analyses of tree cores are viable approaches to examining subsurface volatile organic compound soil-gas or vadose-zone contamination at the Durham Meadows Superfund Site and other similar sites. Thus, the methods may have application for determining the potential for vapor intrusion into buildings.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Real-Time and Delayed Analysis of Tree and Shrub Cores as Indicators of Subsurface Volatile Organic Compound Contamination, Durham Meadows Superfund Site, Durham, Connecticut, August 29, 2006