Rapid Reconnaissance Mapping of Volatile Organic Compounds by Photoionization Detection at the USGS Amargosa Desert Research Site

Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
James Joseph Thordsen1, David A Stonestrom2, Christopher H Conaway2, Wentai Luo3, Ronald J Baker4 and Brian J Andraski5, (1)USGS Western Regional Offices Menlo Park, Menlo Park, CA, United States, (2)USGS, Menlo Park, CA, United States, (3)Portland State University, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Portland, OR, United States, (4)USGS, Trenton, NJ, United States, (5)USGS Nevada Water Science Center, Carson City, NV, United States
Two types of handheld photoionization detectors were evaluated in April 2015 for reconnaissance mapping of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the unsaturated zone surrounding legacy disposal trenches for commercial low-level radioactive waste near Beatty, Nevada (USA). This method is rapid and cost effective when compared to the more conventional procedure used ate the site, where VOCs are collected on sorbent cartridges in the field followed by thermal desorption, gas chromatographic separation, and quantitation by mass spectroscopy in the laboratory (TD-GC-MS analysis). Using the conventional method, more than sixty distinct compounds have been identified in the 110-m deep unsaturated zone vapor phase, and the changing nature of the VOC mix over a 15-yr timeframe has been recorded. Analyses to date have identified chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chlorinated ethenes, chlorinated ethanes, gasoline-range hydrocarbons, chloroform, and carbon tetrachloride as the main classes of VOCs present. The VOC plumes emanating from the various subgroups of trenches are characterized by different relative abundances of the compound classes, and total VOC concentrations that cover several orders of magnitude. One of the photoionization detectors, designed for industrial compliance testing, lacked sufficient dynamic range and sensitivity to be useful. The other, a wide range (1 ppb–20,000 ppm) research-grade instrument with a 10.6 eV photoionization detector (PID) lamp, produced promising results, detecting roughly half of the non-CFC VOCs present. The rapid and inexpensive photoionization method is envisioned as a screening tool to supplement, expedite, and direct the collection of additional samples for TD-GC-MS analyses at this and other VOC-contaminated sites.