Influence of Fluctuating Groundwater Table on Volatile Organic Chemical Emission Flux at a Dissolved Chlorinated-Solvent Plume Site

Yuanming Guo, Chase Holton, Hong Luo, Paul Dahlen, Paul C. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Groundwater elevation fluctuation has been recognized as one mechanism causing temporal indoor air volatile organic chemical (VOC) impacts in vapor intrusion risk assessment guidance. For dissolved VOC sources, groundwater table fluctuation shortens/lengthens the transport pathway, and delivers dissolved contaminants to soils that are alternating between water saturated and variably saturated conditions, thereby enhancing volatilization potential. To date, this mechanism has not been assessed with field data, but enhanced VOC emission flux has been observed in lab-scale and modeling studies. This work evaluates the impact of groundwater elevation changes on VOC emission flux from a dissolved VOC plume into a house, supplemented with modeling results for cyclic groundwater elevation changes. Indoor air concentrations, air exchange rates, and depth to groundwater (DTW) were collected at the study house during an 86-d constant building underpressurization test. These data were used to calculate changes in trichloroethylene (TCE) emission flux to indoor air, during a period when DTW varied daily and seasonally from about 3.1 to 3.4 m below the building foundation (BF). Overall, TCE flux to indoor air varied by about 50% of the average, without any clear correlation to changes in DTW or its change rate. To complement the field study, TCE surface emission fluxes were simulated using a one-dimensional model (HYDRUS 1D) for conditions similar to the field site. Simulation results showed time-averaged surface TCE fluxes for cyclic water-table elevations were greater than for stationary water-table conditions at an equivalent time-averaged water-table position. The magnitudes of temporal TCE emission flux changes were generally less than 50% of the time-averaged flux, consistent with the field site observations. Simulation results also suggested that TCE emission flux changes due to groundwater fluctuation are likely to be significant at sites with shallow groundwater (e.g., < 0.5 m BF) and permeable soil types (e.g., sand).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-52
Number of pages10
JournalGroundwater Monitoring and Remediation
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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