Natural attenuation of a chlorinated ethene plume discharging to a stream: Integrated assessment of hydrogeological, chemical and microbial interactions

Cecilie Bang Ottosen*, Vinni Kampman Rønde, Ursula S. McKnight, Michael D. Annable, Mette Martina Broholm, John F. Devlin, Poul Løgstrup Bjerg

*Corresponding author for this work

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    Attenuation processes of chlorinated ethenes in complex near-stream systems result in site-specific outcomes of great importance for risk assessment of contaminated sites. Additional interdisciplinary and comprehensive field research is required to enhance process understanding in these systems. In this study, several methods were combined in a multi-scale interdisciplinary in-situ approach to assess and quantify the near-stream attenuation of a chlorinated ethene plume, mainly consisting of cis-dichloroethene (cis-DCE) and vinyl chloride (VC), discharging to a lowland stream (Grindsted stream, Denmark) over a monitoring period of seven years. The approach included: hydrogeological characterisation, reach scale contaminant mass balance analysis, quantification of contaminant mass discharge, streambed fluxes of chlorinated ethenes quantified using Sediment Bed Passive Flux Meters (SBPFMs), assessment of redox conditions, temporal assessment of contaminant concentrations, microbial analysis, and compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA). This study site exhibits a special attenuation behaviour not commonly encountered in field studies: the conversion from an initially limited degradation case (2012-16), despite seemingly optimal conditions, to one presenting notable levels of degradation (2019). Hence, this study site provides a new piece to the puzzle, as sites with different attenuation behaviours are required in order to acquire the full picture of the role groundwater‐surface water interfaces have in risk mitigation. In spite of the increased degradation in the near-stream plume core, the contaminant attenuation was still incomplete in the discharging plume. A conceptualization of flow, transport and processes clarified that hydrogeology was the main control on the natural attenuation, as short residence times of 0.5-37 days restricted the time in which dechlorination could occur. This study reveals the importance of: taking an integrated approach to understand the influence of all attenuation processes in groundwater – surface water interactions; considering the scale and domain of interest when determining the main processes; and monitoring sufficiently both spatially and temporally to cover the transient conditions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number116332
    JournalWater Research
    Number of pages14
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


    • Groundwater-surface water interface
    • Passive flux samplers
    • Reductive dechlorination
    • Compound specific stable isotopes
    • Contaminant mass discharge
    • Multiple lines of evidence


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