SEGH Articles

Flux Based Management of a Groundwater Pollution: from Mass Flux Measurements to Regulatory Decisions

01 August 2011
Goedele Verrydt won the Springer / Hemphill Prize for Student Oral Presentation at SEGH 2011 in Ormskirk, UK.


Goedele Verreydt, M.Sc. in Environmental Engineering (2004), commenced her PhD in the Department of Biology at the University of Antwerp in January 2008. Her PhD research concerns the determination and calculation of groundwater contaminant mass fluxes in the frame of a groundwater management, which she performs in the research group Land and Water Management at the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), Mol, Belgium.

The management of contaminated groundwater is very challenging. Most decisions regarding groundwater pollutions are driven by contaminant concentrations. Since concentration estimates may be highly uncertain and do not include the fluctuations caused by spatially and temporally varying hydrologic conditions, these strategies can be improved by additionally considering contaminant mass fluxes (mass of contaminants passing per unit time per unit area) and contaminant mass discharges (sum of all mass flux measures across an entire plume). The contaminant mass that effectively reaches a downgradient receptor, determines the actual risks for the receptor and should therefore be monitored on site. The combined monitoring of contaminant mass fluxes and groundwater fluxes along a control plane is possible with Passive Flux Meters (PFMs), recently developed passive sampling devices that are installed in monitoring wells for a certain period of time.


The main objectives of this study are:

  • to delineate a robust interpretation method for the measurement and calculation of groundwater contaminant fluxes, based on mass flux measurement with Passive Flux Meters (PFMs);
  • to define a clear strategy that supports regulatory decisions in a flux and risk based groundwater management.

The PFM consists of a permeable sorbent infused with soluble tracers packed in a nylon mesh tube. The measurements of the captured contaminants and the remaining resident tracer on the sorbent are used to estimate respectively contaminant and groundwater fluxes.

To calibrate and validate the PFMs, lab as well as field experiments are performed. In addition, the measured water fluxes and contaminant mass fluxes are compared to the results obtained by traditional measurement techniques. The proposed management strategy is based on a source-path-receptor approach.

The PFM has proven to be a valuable instrument for the measurement of contaminant mass flux in groundwater. The extrapolation options of the PFM flux data are defined. Mass discharge can be estimated by integrating the PFM mass flux data throughout the control plane, which converts the individual flux values to a time-stamped cumulative flux (or discharge value). Further, a theoretical framework for a flux based management strategy is set by introducing the term CMDmax (maximum accepted contaminant mass discharge) at a predefined plane of compliance, i.e. a control plane orthogonal to the main flow direction and upgradient the receptor. The proposed strategy includes remedial action if the CMDmax is exceeded.

 G. Verreydt1,2, I. Van keer1 and J. Bronders1

1VITO, Land and Water Management, Boeretang 200, 2400 Mol, Belgium

2Artesis University College of Antwerp, Paardenmarkt 92, 2000 Antwerpen

 Figure shows Mrs. Verreydt retrieving a PFM during a field demonstration in Rijmenam, Belgium.

 Annable, L.D., K. Hatfield, J. Cho, H. Klammler, B.L. Parker, J.A. Cherry and P.S.C. Rao. 2005. Field-Scale Evaluation of the Passive Flux Meter for Simultaneous Measurement of Groundwater and Contaminant Fluxes. Environmental Science & Technology 39(18): 7194-7201.     

Verreydt, G., Bronders, J., Van Keer, I., Diels, L. & Vanderauwera, P. (2010) Passive samplers for monitoring VOCs in groundwater and the prospects related to mass flux measurements. Ground Water Monitoring and Remediation 30(2): 114-126.

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Agro-ecological suitability assessment of Chinese Medicinal Yam under future climate change 2019-10-15


    Chinese Medicinal Yam (CMY) has been prescribed as medicinal food for thousand years in China by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners. Its medical benefits include nourishing the stomach and spleen to improve digestion, replenishing lung and kidney, etc., according to the TCM literature. As living standard rises and public health awareness improves in recent years, the potential medicinal benefits of CMY have attracted increasing attention in China. It has been found that the observed climate change in last several decades, together with the change in economic structure, has driven significant shift in the pattern of the traditional CMY planting areas. To identify suitable planting area for CMY in the near future is critical for ensuring the quality and supply quantity of CMY, guiding the layout of CMY industry, and safeguarding the sustainable development of CMY resources for public health. In this study, we first collect 30-year records of CMY varieties and their corresponding phenology and agro-meteorological observations. We then consolidate these data and use them to enrich and update the eco-physiological parameters of CMY in the agro-ecological zone (AEZ) model. The updated CMY varieties and AEZ model are validated using the historical planting area and production under observed climate conditions. After the successful validation, we use the updated AEZ model to simulate the potential yield of CMY and identify the suitable planting regions under future climate projections in China. This study shows that regions with high ecological similarity to the genuine and core producing areas of CMY mainly distribute in eastern Henan, southeastern Hebei, and western Shandong. The climate suitability of these areas will be improved due to global warming in the next 50 years, and therefore, they will continue to be the most suitable CMY planting regions.

  • Application of stable isotopes and dissolved ions for monitoring landfill leachate contamination 2019-10-15


    We evaluated groundwater contamination by landfill leachate at a municipal landfill and characterized isotopic and hydrogeochemical evidence of the degradation and natural attenuation of buried organic matter at the study site. Dissolved ion content was generally much higher in the leachate than in the surrounding groundwater. The leachate was characterized by highly elevated bicarbonate and ammonium levels and a lack of nitrate and sulfate, indicating generation under anoxic conditions. Leachate δD and δ13CDIC values were much higher than those of the surrounding groundwater; some groundwater samples near the landfill showed a significant contamination by the leachate plume. Hydrochemical characteristics of the groundwater suggest that aquifer geology in the study area plays a key role in controlling the natural attenuation of leachate plumes in this oxygen-limited environment.

  • Lead transfer into the vegetation layer growing naturally in a Pb-contaminated site 2019-10-10


    The lead was one of the main elements in the glazes used to colour ceramic tiles. Due to its presence, ceramic sludge has been a source of environmental pollution since this dangerous waste has been often spread into the soil without any measures of pollution control. These contaminated sites are often located close to industrial sites in the peri-urban areas, thus representing a considerable hazard to the human and ecosystem health. In this study, we investigated the lead transfer into the vegetation layer (Phragmites australis, Salix alba and Sambucus nigra) growing naturally along a Pb-contaminated ditch bank. The analysis showed a different lead accumulation among the species and their plant tissues. Salix trees were not affected by the Pb contamination, possibly because their roots mainly develop below the contaminated deposit. Differently, Sambucus accumulated high concentrations of lead in all plant tissues and fruits, representing a potential source of biomagnification. Phragmites accumulated large amounts of lead in the rhizomes and, considering its homogeneous distribution on the site, was used to map the contamination. Analysing the Pb concentration within plant tissues, we got at the same time information about the spread, the history of the contamination and the relative risks. Finally, we discussed the role of natural recolonizing plants for the soil pollution mitigation and their capacity on decreasing soil erosion and water run-off.