An environmental screening model to assess the consequences to soil and groundwater from railroad-tank-car spills of light non-aqueous phase liquids

Hongkyu Yoon, Charles J. Werth, Christopher P.L. Barkan, David J. Schaeffer, Pooja Anand

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


North American railroads transport a wide variety of chemicals, chemical mixtures and solutions in railroad tank cars. In the event of an accident, these materials may be spilled and impact the environment. Among the chemicals commonly transported are a number of light non-aqueous phase liquids (LNAPLs). If these are spilled they can contaminate soil and groundwater and result in costly cleanups. Railroads need a means of objectively assessing the relative risk to the environment due to spills of these different materials. Environmental models are often used to determine the extent of contamination, and the associated environmental risks. For LNAPL spills, these models must account for NAPL infiltration and redistribution, NAPL dissolution and volatilization, and remediation systems such as pump and treat. This study presents the development and application of an environmental screening model to assess NAPL infiltration and redistribution in soils and groundwater, and to assess groundwater cleanup time using a pumping system. Model simulations use parameters and conditions representing LNAPL releases from railroad tank cars. To take into account unique features of railroad-tank-car spill sites, the hydrocarbon spill screening model (HSSM), which assumes a circular surface spill area and a circular NAPL lens, was modified to account for a rectangular spill area and corresponding lens shape at the groundwater table, as well as the effects of excavation and NAPL evaporation to the atmosphere. The modified HSSM was first used to simulate NAPL infiltration and redistribution. A NAPL dissolution and groundwater transport module, and a pumping system module were then implemented and used to simulate the effects of chemical properties, excavation, and free NAPL removal on NAPL redistribution and cleanup time. The amount of NAPL that reached the groundwater table was greater in coarse sand with high permeability than in fine sand or silt with lower permeabilities. Excavation can reduce the amount of NAPL that reaches the groundwater more effectively in lower permeability soils. The effect of chemical properties including vapor pressure and the ratio of density to viscosity become more important in fine sand and silt soil due to slow NAPL movement in the vadose zone. As expected, a pumping system was effective for high solubility chemicals, but it was not effective for low solubility chemicals due to rate-limited mass transfer by transverse dispersion and flow bypassing. Free NAPL removal can improve the removal efficiency for moderately low solubility chemicals like benzene, but cleanup times even after free NAPL removal can be prolonged for very low solubility chemicals like cyclohexane and styrene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)332-344
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jun 15 2009


  • Environmental consequence
  • HSSM
  • Hazardous materials transportation risk
  • NAPL
  • Railroad-tank-car accident
  • Screening model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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