Groundwater Services, Inc.

Indoor Air as a Source of VOC Contamination in Shallow Soils Below Buildings

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Courtesy of Groundwater Services, Inc.

US EPA and many state regulatory agency guidance documents recommend below foundation vapor sampling as a key element of site investigations to determine if vapor migration from underlying soil into buildings is a completed exposure pathway (USEPA, 2002; WIDHFS, 2003; San Diego County, 2004; PADEP, 2004). If volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are detected below the building foundation, then VOC migration from the subsurface is assumed to be occurring, and further investigation is needed to determine the extent of the VOC impact. These guidance documents are predicated on the assumption that VOCs detected in below-foundation samples have originated from deeper within the subsurface. However, detection of VOCs in below-foundation vapor samples alone is not sufficient to conclude that the VOCs are migrating from the subsurface upward towards a building. VOCs detected in below-foundation vapor samples can originate from indoor sources, migrating down through the slab by diffusion or advection. Commonly referenced conceptual models for vapor intrusion address VOC migration from the subsurface into buildings but do not consider the potential for VOC migration frombuildings into the subsurface (USEPA, 2002; Johnson and Ettinger, 1991; Parker, 2003). The advective and diffusive forces that lead to the migration of VOCs from the subsurface into buildings are equally likely to result in the migration of VOCs from buildings into the subsurface when pressure or concentration gradients support such migration. In this paper we present: i) pressure gradient measurements indicating bidirectional advective flow across building foundations, ii) simple modeling indicating that indoor sources of VOCs may cause subsurface impacts through advection across the building foundation, and iii) field data from a site where indoor sources rather than subsurface contamination were the source of VOCs detected in below-foundation vapor samples. Keywords Vapor intrusion, indoor air, subsurface migration

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