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Keywords:

  • Methyl-tert-butyl ether;
  • Degradation products;
  • Aromatic hydrocarbons;
  • Purge/trap;
  • Groundwater

Abstract

In a gasoline-contaminated site in Düsseldorf, Germany a two-year monitoring program was carried out to determine the presence, behavior, and fate of 12 gasoline additives in a total of 96 samples from 14 groundwater wells. The origin of contamination was suspected to be a gasoline spill at a gas station. Target compounds were methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE), its main degradation products, tert-butyl alcohol (TBA) and tert-butyl formate (TBF); other gasoline additives, oxygenate dialkyl ethers: Ethyl-tert-butyl ether (ETBE), tert-amyl methyl ether (TAME) and diisopropyl ether (DIPE); aromatics: Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (BTEX), and other compounds causing odor problems: Dicyclopentadiene and trichloroethylene. Purge and trap coupled with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry permitted detection of ng/L concentrations. Ninety of the 96 samples analyzed contained MTBE at levels varying between 0.01 to 645 μ/L. Five contaminated hot spots were identified with levels up to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) drinking water advisory values (20–40 μ/L) and one of them doubling Danish suggested toxicity level of 350 μ/L at a depth of 11 m. No significant natural attenuation was found in MTBE degradation, although samples with high levels of MTBE contained 0.1 to 440 μg/L of TBA. These levels were attributed to its presence in the contamination source more than MTBE degradation. tert-Butyl alcohol was found to be recalcitrant in groundwater. In all cases, BTEX were at low concentrations or not detected, showing less persistence than MTBE. The monitoring of the contamination plume showed that the distribution of the MTBE and TBA in the aquifer formed a similar vertical concentration profile that was influenced by the groundwater flow direction.