The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Cation exchange in a glacial till drumlin at a road salt storage facility

TitleCation exchange in a glacial till drumlin at a road salt storage facility
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsOstendorf DW, Xing B, Kallergis N
JournalJournal of Contaminant Hydrology
Start Page118
Date Published03/2009
KeywordsCation exchange, Drumlins, Glacial till, groundwater pollution, Road salt storage

We use laboratory and field data to calibrate existing geochemical and transport models of cation exchange induced by contamination of an unconfined aquifer at a road salt storage facility built upon a glacial till drumlin in eastern Massachusetts. A Gaines and Thomas selectivity coefficient K models the equilibrium sodium and divalent cation distribution in the groundwater and solid matrix, while an existing method of characteristics model describes the advective transport of total dissolved cations and sorbed sodium. Laboratory isotherms of split spoon soil samples from the drumlin calibrate K with an average value of 0.0048 (L/g)(1/2) for a measured cation exchange capacity of 0.057 meq/g dry soil. Ten years of monitoring well data document groundwater flow and the advection of conservative chloride due to outdoor storage and handling of road salt at the site. The monitoring well cation data and retarded transport model offer an independent K calibration of 0.0040 to 0.0047 (L/g)(1/2): the consistency of the field and laboratory selectivity coefficient calibrations endorse this application of the Gaines and Thomas and method of characteristics models. The advancing deicing agent plume releases divalent cations from the till into the groundwater, so that monitoring well samples do not reflect the chemical composition of the road salt. In this regard, dissolved divalent cation milliequivalent concentrations are as high as 80% of the total dissolved cationic concentrations in the salt contaminated monitoring well samples, far greater than their 2.5% level in the road salt stored at the site. Cation exchange can thus obscure attempts to hindcast stored road salt sodium water table concentration from monitoring well sample stoichiometry, or to predict sodium impacts on groundwater or receiving stream quality downgradient of the well.