Effect of phytoremediation on concentrations of benzene, toluene, naphthalene, and dissolved oxygen in groundwater at a former manufactured gas plant site, Charleston, South Carolina, USA, 1998–2014

Research paper by James E. Landmeyer, Thomas N. Effinger

Indexed on: 31 Mar '16Published on: 31 Mar '16Published in: Environmental Geology


Concentrations of benzene, toluene, naphthalene, and dissolved oxygen in groundwater at a former manufactured gas plant site near Charleston, South Carolina, USA, have been monitored since the installation of a phytoremediation system of hybrid poplar trees in 1998. Between 2000 and 2014, the concentrations of benzene, toluene, and naphthalene (BT&N) in groundwater in the planted area have decreased. For example, in the monitoring well containing the highest concentrations of BT&N, benzene concentrations decreased from 10,200 µg/L to less than 4000 µg/L, toluene concentrations decreased from 2420 µg/L to less than 20 µg/L, and naphthalene concentrations decreased from 6840 µg/L to less than 3000 µg/L. Concentrations of BT&N in groundwater in all wells were observed to be lower during the summer months relative to the winter months of a particular year during the first few years after installing the phytoremediation system, most likely due to increased transpiration and contaminant uptake by the hybrid poplar trees during the warm summer months; this pathway of uptake by trees was confirmed by the detection of benzene, toluene, and naphthalene in trees during sampling events in 2002, and later in the study in 2012. These data suggest that the phytoremediation system affects the groundwater contaminants on a seasonal basis and, over multiple years, has resulted in a cumulative decrease in dissolved-phase contaminant concentrations in groundwater. The removal of dissolved organic contaminants from the aquifer has resulted in a lower demand on dissolved oxygen supplied by recharge and, as a result, the redox status of the groundwater has changed from anoxic to oxic conditions. This study provides much needed information for water managers and other scientists on the viability of the long-term effectiveness of phytoremediation in decreasing groundwater contaminants and increasing dissolved oxygen at sites contaminated by benzene, toluene, and naphthalene.