Diffusive Contaminant Transport in Natural Clay: A Field Example and Implications for Clay-Lined Waste Disposal Sites

Richard L. Johnson, John A. Cherry, James F. Pankow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

165 Scopus citations


■ Vertical core samples were obtained from an impervious, unweathered, water-saturated clay deposit beneath a 5-year-old hazardous waste landfill at a site in southwestern Ontario. Sections of the cores were analyzed for chloride and volatile organic compounds. Waste-derived chloride was detected in the clay to a maximum depth of 83 cm below the bottom of the landfill. The most mobile organic compounds were found only to a depth of ~15 cm. The downward transport of these chemical species into the clay was the result of simple Fickian diffusion. This study has implications for low-permeability clay liners used at waste disposal sites. For liners of typical thickness (~1 m), simple diffusion can cause breakthrough of mobile contaminants in approximately 5 years; the diffusive flux of contaminants out of such liners can be large.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-349
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 1989


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry

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