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USGS Studies Support Regulatory Guidance Documents

Figure of computer solute transport simulation of methyl tert-butyl ether
Computer solute transport simulation of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) at the Laurel Bay, South Carolina, research site, based on field and lab data of Landmeyer and others (1998). Black lines of equal concentration show MTBE concentrations in 1994 and 1998; 1998 color map shows simulated concentration ranging from 0 to 10,000 parts per billion (ppb); lines of equal concentration show 100, 1,000, and 10,000 ppb concentration levels. Image Credit: USGS.

Toxic Substances Hydrology (Toxics) Program scientists have been instrumental in promoting the use of natural attenuation to cleanup ground-water contamination, resulting in a savings of millions of dollars annually over engineering options. Toxics Program studies on the natural response of the environment to contamination by toxic substances have been influential in formulating regulatory policy on the use of natural attenuation. Several studies have formed the basis for regulatory guidance documents on the use of natural attenuation. For example:

  • Toxics Program and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientists offered a workshop on implementing natural attenuation remediation alternatives at contaminated sites. The results from several Toxics Program investigations on the natural attenuation of petroleum hydrocarbons, fuel oxygenates, and chlorinated solvents were presented. The seminar provided environmental scientists and engineers with information and methods to evaluate the long-term viability of using natural attenuation to clean up contaminated ground-water sites and to monitor the performance and success of the remediation. These methods are essential to foster confidence in this cost efficient remediation alternative.
  • U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists from the Toxics Program working at the Laurel Bay, South Carolina, Toxics Site have released a methodology to assess the potential for natural attenuation of gasoline and other petroleum products including methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), a component of oxygenated gasoline that reduces air pollution. The methodology is described in a report entitled "Methodology for Applying Monitored Natural Attenuation or Petroleum Hydrocarbon-Contaminated Ground-Water System with Examples from South Carolina" (USGS WRIR 00-4161). This methodology is being adopted by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to integrate consideration of fuel oxygenates (such as MTBE) into the State Underground Petroleum Emergency Response Bank program.
  • The Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund Program have jointly published an important guidance document entitled "Technical Protocol for Evaluating Natural Attenuation of Chlorinated Solvents in Ground Water." The guidance was coauthored by a Toxics Program scientist. Information and methods developed by the programs contributed to the scientific basis for this protocol.


Chapelle, F.H., Robertson, J.F., Landmeyer, J.E., and Bradley, P.M., 2000, Methodology for applying monitored natural attenuation to petroleum hydrocarbon-contaminated ground-water systems with examples from South Carolina: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4161, 47 p (A 3 1/2" disk is included).

Wiedemeier, T.H., Swanson, M.A., Moutoux, D.E., Gordon, E.K., Wilson, J.T., Wilson, B.H., Kampbell, D.H., Haas, P.E., Miller, R.N., Hansen, J.E., and Chapelle, F.H., 1998, Technical protocol for evaluating natural attenuation of chlorinated solvents in ground water: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development, EPA/600/R-98/128, 244 p.

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