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Measurements of HFC-134a and HCFC-22 in groundwater and unsaturated-zone air: implications for HFCs and HCFCs as dating tracers

October 24, 2014

A new analytical method using gas chromatography with an atomic emission detector (GC–AED) was developed for measurement of ambient concentrations of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in soil, air, and groundwater, with the goal of determining their utility as groundwater age tracers. The analytical detection limits of HCFC-22 (difluorochloromethane, CHClF2) and HFC-134a (1,2,2,2-tetrafluoroethane, C2H2F4) in 1 L groundwater samples are 4.3 × 10− 1 and 2.1 × 10− 1 pmol kg− 1, respectively, corresponding to equilibrium gas-phase mixing ratios of approximately 5–6 parts per trillion by volume (pptv). Under optimal conditions, post-1960 (HCFC-22) and post-1995 (HFC-134a) recharge could be identified using these tracers in stable, unmixed groundwater samples. Ambient concentrations of HCFC-22 and HFC-134a were measured in 50 groundwater samples from 27 locations in northern and western parts of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina (USA), and 3 unsaturated-zone profiles were collected in northern Virginia. Mixing ratios of both HCFC-22 and HFC-134a decrease with depth in unsaturated-zone gas profiles with an accompanying increase in CO2 and loss of O2. Apparently, ambient concentrations of HCFC-22 and HFC-134a are readily consumed by methanotrophic bacteria under aerobic conditions in the unsaturated zone. The results of this study indicate that soils are a sink for these two greenhouse gases. These observations contradict the previously reported results from microcosm experiments that found that degradation was limited above-ambient HFC-134a. The groundwater HFC and HCFC concentrations were compared with concentrations of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, CFC-11, CFC-12, CFC-113) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). Nearly all samples had measured HCFC-22 or HFC-134a that were below concentrations predicted by the CFCs and SF6, with many samples showing a complete loss of HCFC-22 and HFC-134a. This study indicates that HCFC-22 and HFC-134a are not conservative as environmental tracers and leaves in question the usefulness of other HCFCs and HFCs as candidate age tracers.

Publication Year 2014
Title Measurements of HFC-134a and HCFC-22 in groundwater and unsaturated-zone air: implications for HFCs and HCFCs as dating tracers
DOI 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2014.07.016
Authors Karl B. Haase, Eurybiades Busenberg, Niel Plummer, Gerolamo Casile, Ward E. Sanford
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Chemical Geology
Index ID 70129605
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Eastern Branch; Toxic Substances Hydrology Program