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Environ Toxicol Chem. 2006 Apr;25(4):921-32.

Source apportionment modeling of volatile organic compounds in streams.

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  • 1Department of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems, OGI School of Science and Engineering, Oregon Health and Science University, 20000 NW Walker Rd., Beaverton, OR 97006-8921, USA.


It often is of interest to understand the relative importance of the different sources contributing to the concentration c(w) of a contaminant in a stream; the portions related to sources 1, 2, 3, etc. are denoted c(w,1), c(w2), c(w3), etc. Like c(w), the fractions alpha1 = c(w,1)/c(w), alpha2 = c(w,2)/c(w), alpha3 = c(w,3)/c(w), etc. depend on location and time. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can undergo absorption from the atmosphere into stream water or loss from stream water to the atmosphere, causing complexities affecting the source apportionment (SA) of VOCs in streams. Two SA rules are elaborated. Rule 1: VOC entering a stream across the air/water interface exclusively is assigned to the atmospheric portion of c(w). Rule 2: VOC loss by volatilization, flow loss to groundwater, in-stream degradation, etc. is distributed over c(w,1), c(w,2), c(w3), etc. in proportion to their corresponding alpha values. How the two SA rules are applied, as well as the nature of the SA output for a given case, will depend on whether transport across the air/water interface is handled using the net flux F convention or using the individual fluxes J convention. Four hypothetical stream cases involving acetone, methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE), benzene, chloroform, and perchloroethylene (PCE) are considered. Acetone and MTBE are sufficiently water soluble from air for a domestic atmospheric source to be capable of yielding c(w) values approaching the common water quality guideline range of 1 to 10 microg/L. For most other VOCs, such levels cause net outgassing (F > 0). When F > 0 in a given section of stream, in the net flux convention, all of the alpha(j) for the compound remain unchanged over that section while c(w) decreases. A characteristic time tau(d) can be calculated to predict when there will be differences between SA results obtained by the net flux convention versus the individual fluxes convention. Source apportionment modeling provides the framework necessary for comparing different strategies for mitigating contamination at points of interest along a stream.

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