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Pure-Phase Transport and Dissolution of TCE in Sedimentary Rock Saprolite


Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115; (815) 753-7937; fax (815) 753-1945;


The objective of this study was to experimentally determine the influence of pore structure on the transport and dissolution of trichloroethylene (TCE) in clay-rich saprolite. In order to simulate a “spill,” pure-phase TCE containing a water-insoluble fluorescent dye was injected into two heterogeneous 24-cm-diameter by 37-cm-long undisturbed columns of water-saturated saprolite. TCE entry occurred at capillary pressures of 2.7 and 4.0 kPa. Ten or 28 d after injection, the column was sliced horizontally into three sections and visually examined. The distribution of fluorescent dye indicated that pure-phase TCE migrated mainly through fractures in the shale saprolite and through fine root holes or other macropores in the limestone saprolite residuum. Analysis of saprolite subsamples indicated that TCE was present throughout much of the saprolite column but usually at concentrations less than the solubility of TCE. This spreading was caused by diffusion, which also contributed to the rapid dissolution of TCE in the fractures and macropores. Modeling was carried out using previously published dissolution and diffusion equations. The calculations confirm that rapid disappearance of immiscible TCE can occur in this type of material because of the small size of fracture or macropore openings and the high porosity of the fine-grained material. This study indicates that industrial solvents can readily enter fractures and macropores in otherwise very fine-grained subsoils and then rapidly dissolve and diffuse into the fine-pore structure, fromc which they may be very difficult to remove.

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