Biogeochemical Evolution of a Landfill Leachate Plume, Norman, Oklahoma

Authors


U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA 20192; icozzare@usgs.gov

Abstract

Leachate from municipal landfills can create groundwater contaminant plumes that may last for decades to centuries. The fate of reactive contaminants in leachate-affected aquifers depends on the sustainability of biogeochemical processes affecting contaminant transport. Temporal variations in the configuration of redox zones downgradient from the Norman Landfill were studied for more than a decade. The leachate plume contained elevated concentrations of nonvolatile dissolved organic carbon (NVDOC) (up to 300 mg/L), methane (16 mg/L), ammonium (650 mg/L as N), iron (23 mg/L), chloride (1030 mg/L), and bicarbonate (4270 mg/L). Chemical and isotopic investigations along a 2D plume transect revealed consumption of solid and aqueous electron acceptors in the aquifer, depleting the natural attenuation capacity. Despite the relative recalcitrance of NVDOC to biodegradation, the center of the plume was depleted in sulfate, which reduces the long-term oxidation capacity of the leachate-affected aquifer. Ammonium and methane were attenuated in the aquifer relative to chloride by different processes: ammonium transport was retarded mainly by physical interaction with aquifer solids, whereas the methane plume was truncated largely by oxidation. Studies near plume boundaries revealed temporal variability in constituent concentrations related in part to hydrologic changes at various time scales. The upper boundary of the plume was a particularly active location where redox reactions responded to recharge events and seasonal water-table fluctuations. Accurately describing the biogeochemical processes that affect the transport of contaminants in this landfill-leachate-affected aquifer required understanding the aquifer's geologic and hydrodynamic framework.

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