A novel concept for estimating the contaminant mass discharge of chlorinated ethenes emanating from clay till sites

Louise Rosenberg*, Klaus Mosthaf, Mette M. Broholm, Annika S. Fjordbøge, Nina Tuxen, Ida Henriette Kerrn-Jespersen, Vinni Rønde, Poul L. Bjerg

*Corresponding author for this work

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Interest in using contaminant mass discharge (CMD) for risk assessment of contaminated sites has increased over the years, as it accounts for the contaminant mass that is moving and posing a risk to water resources and receptors. The most common investigation of CMD involves a transect of multilevel wells; however, this is an expensive undertaking, and it is difficult to place it in the right position in a plume. Additionally, infrastructure at the site needs to be considered. To derive an initial CMD estimate at a contaminated site and to allow for the prioritization of further investigations and remedial actions, the ProfileFlux method has been developed. It is targeted at former industrial sites with a source zone in a low conductivity layer with primarily vertical flow overlying an aquifer with primarily horizontal groundwater flow. The ProfileFlux method was developed for mature chlorinated solvent plumes, typically originating from more than 30 to 50-year-old spills, as the usage of chlorinated solvents is primarily historical. Thus, it is assumed that the contaminant had time to distribute in the low conductivity layer by mainly diffusive processes. Today the contamination is continuously released to the underlying aquifer, where advection and dispersive (other than diffusive) processes are of higher importance. The approach combines high-resolution, depth-discrete vertical concentration profiles and a simple 2D flow and transport model to estimate CMD by comparing measured and simulated concentration profiles. The study presented herein includes a global sensitivity analysis, in order to identify crucial field parameters, and of particular importance in this regard are source length, groundwater flux and infiltration. The ProfileFlux method was tested at a well-examined industrial site primarily contaminated with trichloroethylene, thereby allowing a comparison between CMD from the ProfileFlux method and the traditional transect method. CMD was estimated at 117–170 g/year, when using the ProfileFlux method, against 143 g/year with the transect method, thus validating ProfileFlux method's ability to estimate CMD. In addition, applying the method identified weak points in the conceptual site model. The method will be incorporated into a user-friendly online tool directed at environmental consultants and decision-makers working on the risk assessment and prioritization of contaminated sites with the specific hydrogeological conditions of an aquifer with an overlying low permeability layer.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104121
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Contaminant flux
  • Depth discrete concentration profiles
  • Contaminant plume
  • Risk assessment
  • Groundwater solute transport model


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