How to quantify pollutant degradation in contaminated aquifers?

Insights / 17 May 2023 by iFLUX /
Credit : iFLUX

Whenever sustainable degradation of pollutants in groundwater can be demonstrated, inexpensive and environmentally friendly remediation options are possible. That is why IsoFLUX was launched as new evaluation tool for degradation and sources of groundwater pollutants.

Groundwater is a vital resource that sustains human societies and ecosystems alike. However, it is susceptible to contamination from various sources, including industrial activities, agriculture, and improper waste management. To understand the behavior and fate of groundwater pollutants, isotope analysis is employed. This can be a powerful tool that unravels invaluable insights into the natural degradation processes occurring within aquifers. This article explores the significance of isotope analysis in studying groundwater pollutants and how it contributes to our understanding of natural degradation potential.

Understanding Isotope Analysis

Isotopes are atoms of the same element that have different masses due to varying numbers of neutrons. Some isotopes are stable, while others are radioactive, undergoing decay over time. Isotope analysis involves measuring the abundance of specific isotopes within a sample and comparing them to known standards or references. In the context of groundwater pollution, isotopes provide unique signatures that shed light on the origin, transport, and transformation of contaminants.

How is this relevant for quantifying natural degradation?

Isotope analysis aids in tracing the transport and fate of groundwater pollutants. Isotopic ratios change as contaminants undergo various physical, chemical, and biological processes during their migration through the subsurface. Monitoring isotopic shifts along groundwater flow paths provides valuable insights into attenuation mechanisms, such as dilution, adsorption, biodegradation, and volatilization. This information enables you to assess the effectiveness of natural attenuation processes in reducing contaminant concentrations.

Isotope analysis of groundwater pollutants offers numerous benefits for remediation strategies and sustainable water management. By understanding the natural degradation processes, decision-makers can optimize remediation efforts and minimize reliance on costly engineering interventions. Isotope analysis provides essential information for evaluating the potential for monitored natural attenuation (MNA) or enhanced bioremediation, which can harness natural processes to mitigate contamination.

Furthermore, the use of stable isotopes as tracers can aid in identifying preferential flow paths, understanding groundwater recharge mechanisms, and delineating vulnerable zones within aquifers. This knowledge can guide the implementation of targeted monitoring programs and facilitate proactive measures for preventing contamination.

How can you measure this?

Together with Isodetect and Cornet & Renard, a new measuring tool is developed. IsoFLUX is launched for time-integrated and very sensitive isotope analysis of groundwater pollutants in order to achieve:

  • better groundwater quality
  • profound risk assessment by understanding the dynamics of contaminant plumes
  • more robust conceptual site models to decide on reliable remedial measures
  • pollutant source identification and assignment of clean-up liability
  • validated success control of clean-up technologies

IsoFLUX summarized

IsoFLUX provides information that can not be obtained via conventional groundwater measurements and analyses. This technology opens a more comprehensive insith into the actual migration and degradation of pollutants in groundwater.

  • Precise flux estimations and CSIA of groundwater pollutants
  • Lower detection levels compared to conventional sampling procedures
  • Successfully tested for BTEX, CVOC and pesticides
  • Enabling contribution assessment and degradation quantification

What are the advantages of IsoFLUX?

The IsoFLUX provides information that can not be obtained via conventional groundwater measurements and analyses. The technology opens a more comprehensive insight into the actual migration and degradation of pollutants in groundwater, our most important natural resource for drinking water.

IsoFLUX delivers very sensitive and precise flux estimations and CSIA of groundwater pollutants like monoaromatics (BTEX), chlorinated solvents (CVOCs) as well as pesticides (e.g. phenoxy acids, desphenylchloridazone). 

Batch and dynamic laboratory tests revealed precise and accurate isotope analysis reaching significantly lower levels of detection in comparison to conventional sampling procedures

At representative field sites, contaminated with BTEX, CVOC and pesticides (2,4-dichloroprop), alpha testing of IsoFLUX samplers were successfully carried out. 

Interpretation schemes using the obtained flux and CSIA data complements the IsoFLUX approach enabling meaningful and sound source contribution assessment and degradation quantification

‘This project has received funding from the Eurostars-2 joint programme with co-funding from the European Union Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.’

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