Groundwater Services, Inc.

Planning-Level Source Decay Models to Evaluate Impact of Source Depletion on Remediation Time Frame

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Courtesy of Groundwater Services, Inc.

A recent United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) Expert Panel on Dense Nonaqueous Phase Liquid (DNAPL) Source Remediation concluded that the decision-making process for implementing source depletion is hampered by quantitative uncertainties and that few useful predictive tools are currently available for evaluating the benefits. This article provides a new planning-level approach to aid the process. Four simple mass balance models were used to provide estimates of the reduction in the remediation time frame (RTF) for a given amount of source depletion: step function, linear decay, first-order decay, and compound. As a shared framework for assessment, all models use the time required to remediate groundwater concentrations below a particular threshold (e.g., goal concentration or mass discharge rate) as a metric. This value is of interest in terms of providing (1) absolute RTF estimates in years as a function of current mass discharge rate, current source mass, the remediation goal, and the source-reduction factor, and (2) relative RTF estimates as a fraction of the remediation time frame for monitored natural attenuation (MNA). Because the latter is a function of the remediation goal and the remaining fraction (RF) of mass following remediation, the relative RTF can be a valuable aid in the decision to proceed with source depletion or to use a long-term containment or MNA approach. Design curves and examples illustrate the nonlinear relationship between the fraction of mass remaining following source depletion and the reduction in the RTF in the three decay-based models. For an example case where 70 percent of the mass was removed by source depletion and the remediation goal (Cg/C0) was input as 0.01, the improvement in the RTF (relative to MNA) ranged from a 70 percent reduction (step function model) to a 21 percent reduction (compound model). Because empirical and process knowledge support the appropriateness of decay-based models, the efficiency of source depletion in reducing the RTF is likely to be low at most sites (i.e., the percentage reduction in RTF will be much lower than the percentage of the mass that is removed by a source-depletion project). Overall, the anticipated use of this planning model is in guiding the decision-making process by quantifying the relative relationship between RTF and source depletion using commonly available site data.

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