Natural remobilization of multicomponent DNAPL pools due to dissolution
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Mixtures of dense nonaqueous phase liquids (DNAPLs) trapped in the subsurface can act as long-term sources of contamination by dissolving into flowing groundwater. If the components have different solubilities then dissolution will alter the composition of the remaining DNAPL. We theorized that a multicomponent DNAPL pool may become mobile due to the natural dissolution process. In this study, we focused on two scenarios: (1) a DNAPL losing light component(s), with the potential for downward migration; and (2) a DNAPL losing dense component(s), with the potential for upward migration following transformation into a less dense than water nonaqueous phase liquid (LNAPL). We considered three binary mixtures of common groundwater contaminants: benzene and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), PCE and dichloromethane (DCM), and DCM and toluene. A number of physical properties that control the retention and transport of DNAPL in porous media were measured for the mixtures, namely: density, interfacial tension, effective solubility, and viscosity. All properties except density exhibited nonlinear relationships with changing molar ratio of the DNAPL. To illustrate the potential for natural remobilization, we modelled the following two primary mechanisms: the reduction in pool height as mass is lost by dissolution, and the changes in fluid properties with changing molar ratio of the DNAPL. The first mechanism always reduces the capillary pressure in the pool, while the second mechanism may increase the capillary pressure or alter the direction of the driving force. The difference between the rate of change of each determines whether the potential for remobilization increases or decreases. Static conditions and horizontal layering were assumed along with a one-dimensional, compositional modelling approach. Our results indicated that for initial benzene/PCE ratios greater than 25:75, the change in density was sufficiently faster than the decline in pool height to promote DNAPL breakthrough into the adjacent porous medium. In contrast, there was no potential for natural remobilization of a PCE-DCM mixture, primarily because the densities of the components are not sufficiently different. Dissolution of a DCM-toluene mixture decreased the density, reducing the tendency for downward displacement. However, the ultimate transformation from a DNAPL to an LNAPL may induce upward displacement. These results suggest that at sites with DNAPL pools containing a mix of components of sufficiently different densities and relative solubilities, natural remobilization may be an active mechanism, with implications for site evaluation and remediation.
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