Effects of the Desorption and Dissolution of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons on Phytoremediation at a Creosote-Contaminated Site

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Virginia Tech


Creosote, containing many high molecular weight hydrophobic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH's), is present in the subsurface environment at the Oneida Tie-Yard in Oneida, Tennessee. Phytoremediation using hybrid poplar trees was chosen as the remedial technology on-site. Since monitoring began, the contaminant plume has been shrinking consistently and evidence has shown that remediation is taking place. However, remediation may be rate-limited by the desorption and dissolution kinetics of the PAH's on-site.

The objectives of this research are to: (1) estimate the desorption and dissolution rates of 10 PAH's found in the subsurface and (2) estimate the amount of each PAH and total mass of contaminant that is irreversibly sorbed to the soil. Three laboratory desorption and dissolution experiments were performed using contaminated soil samples from the Oneida Tie-Yard site. The first experiment was a batch desorption equilibrium experiment, the second was a batch desorption kinetics experiment, and the third was a soil column dissolution kinetics experiment. The target compounds in this study were: naphthalene, acenaphthylene, acenaphthene, fluorene, phenanthrene, anthracene, fluoranthene, pyrene, chrysene, and benzo(b)fluoranthene.

The resulting data for the desorption equilibrium experiment revealed that rates of equilibrium were truly not instantaneous in the systems studied. However, because approximately 76% of PAH's desorbed by the first sampling event (3 days), an equilibrium isotherm was considered appropriate. Results showed that there is a sorbed reversible concentration that readily desorbs to the aqueous phase for each PAH. Additionally, it was determined that the percent removal of sorbed PAH's decreases with increasing molecular weight. Desorption curves based on experimental data were found to exhibit linear behavior over large variations in aqueous concentration, but showed exponential behavior as concentrations approached zero. Freundlich sorption equilibrium isotherms for the 10 monitored PAH's on-site were generally found to have N coefficient values over 1, especially over large variations in solution phase concentration, indicating a non-uniform sorbent.

Dissolution of resistant PAH's under field-like conditions was determined to occur over long periods of time. Dissolution rates calculated from experimental data were shown to generally decrease with increasing molecular weight. Overall, desorption and dissolution kinetics of PAH's were shown to be rate-limiting factors to remediation at the Oneida Tie-Yard.



groundwater contamination, bioavailability, non-aqueous phase liquid, recalcitrant compound, mass-transfer