TNT transport and fate in contaminated soil

S. D. Comfort, P. J. Shea, L. S. Hundal, Z. Li, B. L. Woodbury, J. L. Martin, W. L. Powers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Past disposal practices at munitions production plants have contaminated terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems with 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT). We determined TNT transport, degradation, and long-term sorption characteristics in soil. Transport experiments were conducted with repacked, unsaturated soil columns containing uncontaminated soil or layers of contaminated and uncontaminated soil. Uncontaminated soil columns received multiple pore volumes (22-50) of a TNT-3H2O pulse, containing 70 or 6.3 mg TNT L-1 at a constant pore water velocity. TNT breakthrough curves (BTCs) never reached initial solute pulse concentrations. Apex concentrations (C/Co) were between 0.6 and 0.8 for an initial pulse of 70 mg TNT L-1 and 0.2 to 0.3 for the 6.3 mg TNT L-1 pulse. Earlier TNT breakthrough was observed at the higher pulse concentration. This mobility difference was predicted from the nonlinear adsorption isotherm determined for TNT sorption. In all experiments, a significant fraction of added TNT was recovered as amino degradates of TNT. Mass balance estimates indicated 81% of the added TNT was recovered (as TNT and amino degradates) from columns receiving the 70 mg TNT L-1 pulse compared to 35% horn columns receiving the 6.3 mg TNT L-1 pulse. Most of the unaccountable TNT was hypothesized to be unextractable. This was supported by a 168-d sorption experiment, which found that within 14 d, 80% of 14C activity (added as 14C-TNT) was adsorbed and roughly 40% unextractable. Our observations illustrate that TNT sorption and degradation are concentration-dependent and the assumptions of linear adsorption and adsorption-desorption singularity commonly used in transport modeling, may not be valid for predicting TNT transport in munitions-contaminated soils.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1174-1182
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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