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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


Crude Oil Contamination in the Shallow Subsurface—Bemidji, Minnesota

USGS installing a tensiometer at the Bemidji Crude Oil Spill Research Site, Minnesota.
Installing a tensiometer in the unsaturated zone prior to a tracer test. Tensiometers are used to measure water pressure in the unsaturated zone.

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Crude oil from a pipeline rupture in 1979 contaminated a shallow aquifer near Bemidji, Minnesota. After initial cleanup, about 110,000 gallons of crude oil remains in the subsurface. This site thus provides a unique opportunity to study a contaminant plume where the location, amount, and timing of the spill are precisely known. The study focuses on how crude oil spreads in soil vapor and ground water. Models have been developed to describe the controlling physical, chemical, and biological processes. These models can be used to evaluate remedial strategies for oil spills, including intrinsic bioremediation.

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