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Groundwater contaminant plume maps and volumes, 100-K and 100-N Areas, Hanford Site, Washington

September 27, 2016

This study provides an independent estimate of the areal and volumetric extent of groundwater contaminant plumes which are affected by waste disposal in the 100-K and 100-N Areas (study area) along the Columbia River Corridor of the Hanford Site. The Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council requested that the U.S. Geological Survey perform this interpolation to assess the accuracy of delineations previously conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors, in order to assure that the Natural Resource Damage Assessment could rely on these analyses. This study is based on previously existing chemical (or radionuclide) sampling and analysis data downloaded from publicly available Hanford Site Internet sources, geostatistically selected and interpreted as representative of current (from 2009 through part of 2012) but average conditions for groundwater contamination in the study area. The study is limited in scope to five contaminants—hexavalent chromium, tritium, nitrate, strontium-90, and carbon-14, all detected at concentrations greater than regulatory limits in the past.

All recent analytical concentrations (or activities) for each contaminant, adjusted for radioactive decay, non-detections, and co-located wells, were converted to log-normal distributions and these transformed values were averaged for each well location. The log-normally linearized well averages were spatially interpolated on a 50 × 50-meter (m) grid extending across the combined 100-N and 100-K Areas study area but limited to avoid unrepresentative extrapolation, using the minimum curvature geostatistical interpolation method provided by SURFER®data analysis software. Plume extents were interpreted by interpolating the log-normally transformed data, again using SURFER®, along lines of equal contaminant concentration at an appropriate established regulatory concentration . Total areas for each plume were calculated as an indicator of relative environmental damage. These plume extents are shown graphically and in tabular form for comparison to previous estimates. Plume data also were interpolated to a finer grid (10 × 10 m) for some processing, particularly to estimate volumes of contaminated groundwater. However, hydrogeologic transport modeling was not considered for the interpolation. The compilation of plume extents for each contaminant also allowed estimates of overlap of the plumes or areas with more than one contaminant above regulatory standards.

A mapping of saturated aquifer thickness also was derived across the 100-K and 100–N study area, based on the vertical difference between the groundwater level (water table) at the top and the altitude of the top of the Ringold Upper Mud geologic unit, considered the bottom of the uppermost unconfined aquifer. Saturated thickness was calculated for each cell in the finer (10 × 10 m) grid. The summation of the cells’ saturated thickness values within each polygon of plume regulatory exceedance provided an estimate of the total volume of contaminated aquifer, and the results also were checked using a SURFER® volumetric integration procedure. The total volume of contaminated groundwater in each plume was derived by multiplying the aquifer saturated thickness volume by a locally representative value of porosity (0.3).

Estimates of the uncertainty of the plume delineation also are presented. “Upper limit” plume delineations were calculated for each contaminant using the same procedure as the “average” plume extent except with values at each well that are set at a 95-percent upper confidence limit around the log-normally transformed mean concentrations, based on the standard error for the distribution of the mean value in that well; “lower limit” plumes are calculated at a 5-percent confidence limit around the geometric mean. These upper- and lower-limit estimates are considered unrealistic because the statistics were increased or decreased at each well simultaneously and were not adjusted for correlation among the well distributions (i.e., it is not realistic that all wells would be high simultaneously). Sources of the variability in the distributions used in the upper- and lower-extent maps include time varying concentrations and analytical errors.

The plume delineations developed in this study are similar to the previous plume descriptions developed by U.S. Department of Energy and its contractors. The differences are primarily due to data selection and interpolation methodology. The differences in delineated plumes are not sufficient to result in the Hanford Natural Resource Trustee Council adjusting its understandings of contaminant impact or remediation.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2016
Title Groundwater contaminant plume maps and volumes, 100-K and 100-N Areas, Hanford Site, Washington
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161161
Authors Kenneth H. Johnson
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2016-1161
Index ID ofr20161161
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Washington Water Science Center