US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Environ. Sci. Technol. 2009, 43, 4843–4850.


Organic wastewater contaminants (OWCs) were measured in samples collected from monitoring wells located along a 4.5- km transect of a plume of groundwater contaminated by 60 years of continuous rapid infiltration disposal of wastewater treatment plant effluent. Fifteen percent of the 212OWCs analyzed were detected, including the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole (SX), the nonionic surfactant degradation product 4-nonylphenol (NP), the solvent tetrachloroethene (PCE), and the disinfectant 1,4-dichlorobenzene (DCB). Comparison of the 2005 sampling results to data collected from the same wells in 1985 indicates that PCE and DCB are transported more rapidly in the aquifer than NP, consistent with predictions based on compound hydrophobicity. Natural gradient in situ tracer experiments were conducted to evaluate the subsurface behavior of SX, NP, and the female sex hormone 17β-estradiol (E2) in two oxic zones in the aquifer: (1) a down gradient transition zone at the interface between the contamination plume and the overlying uncontaminated groundwater and (2) a contaminated zone located beneath the infiltration beds, which have not been loaded for 10 years. In both zones, breakthrough curves for the conservative tracer bromide (Br-) and SX were nearly coincident, whereas NP and E2 were retarded relative to Br- and showed mass loss. Retardation was greater in the contaminated zone than in the transition zone. Attenuation of NP and E2 in the aquifer was attributed to biotransformation, and oxic laboratory microcosm experiments using sediments from the transition and contaminated zones show that uniform-ring labeled 14C 4-normal-NP was biodegraded more rapidly (30-60% recovered as 14CO2 in 13 days) than 4-14C E2 (20-90% recovered as 14CO2 in 54 days). There was little difference in mineralization potential between sites.