Henry’s Equilibrium Partitioning between Ground Water and Soil Air: Predictions versus Observations


Humans spend 64% - 94% of their time indoors; therefore, indoor air quality is very important for potential exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOC). The source of VOC in the subsurface may come from accidental or intentional releases, leaking landfills or leaking underground and above-ground storage tanks. Once these contaminants are present near or beneath buildings, they may move as a vapour through soil gas and enter the building. A large number of vapour intrusion (VI) algorithms have been published in peer-reviewed publications that link indoor VOC concentrations to the contamination of soils. These models typically include phase partitioning calculations of VOC based on Henry’s law to estimate the concentration of a particular contaminant in soil gas. This paper presents the results from a series of laboratory experiments concerning the use of the Henry’s Law constant for the calculation of toluene concentrations in equilibrium between ground water and soil air. A series of column experiments were conducted with various toluene concentrations in artificial (ground) water to contrast the predicted and observed (soil) air concentrations. The experiments which exclude soil material show a toluene fugacity behaviour roughly in line with Henry’s law whereas the experiments which include soil material result in equilibrium soil concentrations which were around one order-of-magnitude lower than was expected from a Henry Law-based estimation. It is concluded that for toluene inclusion of Henry’s Law in VI algorithms does not provide an adequate description of volatilisation in soils and may lead to an overestimation of health risk. Instead, a model based on a simple description of the relevant intermolecular interactions could be explored.

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J. Provoost, R. Ottoy, L. Reijnders, J. Bronders, I. Keer, F. Swartjes, D. Wilczek and D. Poelmans, "Henry’s Equilibrium Partitioning between Ground Water and Soil Air: Predictions versus Observations," Journal of Environmental Protection, Vol. 2 No. 7, 2011, pp. 873-881. doi: 10.4236/jep.2011.27099.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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