Estimating contaminant attenuation half-lives in alluvial groundwater systems
One aspect of describing contamination in an alluvial aquifer is estimating changes in concentrations over time. A variety of statistical methods are available for assessing trends in contaminant concentrations. We present a method that extends trend analysis to include estimating the coefficients for the exponential decay equation and calculating contaminant attenuation half-lives. The conceptual model for this approach assumes that the rate of decline is proportional to the contaminant concentration in an aquifer. Consequently, the amount of time to remove a unit quantity of the contaminant inventory from an aquifer lengthens as the concentration decreases. Support for this conceptual model is demonstrated empirically with log-transformed time series of contaminant data. Equations are provided for calculating system attenuation half-lives for non-radioactive contaminants. For radioactive contaminants, the system attenuation half-life is partitioned into the intrinsic radioactive decay and the concentration reduction caused by aquifer processes. Examples are presented that provide the details of this approach. In addition to gaining an understanding of aquifer characteristics and changes in constituent concentrations, this method can be used to assess compliance with regulatory standards and to estimate the time to compliance when natural attenuation is being considered as a remediation strategy. A special application of this method is also provided that estimates the half-life of the residence time for groundwater in the aquifer by estimating the half life for a conservative contaminant that is no longer being released into the aquifer. Finally, the ratio of the half-life for groundwater residence time to the attenuation half-life for a contaminant is discussed as a system-scale retardation factor which can be used in analytical and numerical modeling.