How the K(d) approach undermines ground water cleanup

Craig M. Bethke, Patrick V. Brady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Environmental scientists have long appreciated that the distribution coefficient (the `Kd' or `constant Kd') approach predicts the partitioning of heavy metals between sediment and ground water inaccurately; nonetheless, transport models applied to problems of environmental protection and ground water remediation almost invariably employ this technique. To examine the consequences of this practice, we consider transport in one dimension of Pb and other heavy metals through an aquifer containing hydrous ferric oxide, onto which many heavy metals sorb strongly. We compare the predictions of models calculated using the Kd approach to those given by surface complexation theory, which is more realistic physically and chemically. The two modeling techniques give qualitatively differing results that lead to divergent cleanup strategies. The results for surface complexation theory show that water flushing is ineffective at displacing Pb from the sorbing surface. The effluent from such treatment contains a persistent `tail' of small but significant levels of contamination. Subsurface zones of Pb contamination, furthermore, do not migrate rapidly or far in flowing ground water. These results stand in sharp contrast to the predictions of models constructed using the Kd approach, yet are consistent with experience in the laboratory and field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-443
Number of pages9
JournalGround Water
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences

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