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Groundwater and surface water contamination by fire retardants at Abbotsford Airport

The impact of fire retardant waste on the aquatic environment was investigated at Abbotsford Airport located in the Lower Fraser Valley, in Southwestern British Columbia. The cleaning of fire fighting aircraft results in significant quantities of fire retardant waste being washed into the airport drainage system with subsequent transport to a drainage ditch located in the southwest corner of the Airport Chemical components of the fire retardant likely to be of environmental concern were identified as ammonia, phosphate, and a corrosion inhibitor.
Glacial and outwash deposits consisting of sands and gravels comprise the surficial geology of the study area. Hence, the fire retardant waste would have the potential to impact both surface water and groundwater resources. Therefore there was concern due to the extensive use of groundwater in the local area for both drinking and irrigational purposes.
The major components of the research design were 1) assessment of the spatial and temporal distribution of fire retardant introduced into the aquatic environment, and 2) overall impact of fire retardant contamination on surface water and groundwater quality.
A long term and two short term monitoring programs were designed to determine the rate of transport and distribution of the fire retardant in the aquatic environment Results showed that although the fire retardant was observed to wash through the drainage system into the stream, no measurable impact on surface water quality was recorded during the study period. Fire retardant components which would cause surface water contamination are ammonia, phosphorus, iron and chromium. A significant rise in nitrate-nitrogen concentration was detected in groundwater samples less than a day after fire retardant waste was recorded in measurable quantities in the ditch water. Temporal distribution of fire retardant in the aquatic environment was correlated with the high hydraulic conductivity of the subsurface and specific hydrological events involving heavy precipitation. Results from the laboratory column experiments indicated that components of the Fire retardant were not retained in the soil and would therefore be rapidly leached into groundwater.
Surface water quality and groundwater quality results were compared with established water quality standards for drinking water and protection of freshwater aquatic life. On the basis of these standards the fire retardant waste was not found to contribute to degradation of the surface and groundwaters at Abbotsford Airport
Overall impact of the fire retardant waste on the aquatic environment at Abbotsford Airport during the study period was not found to be significant The low fire season combined with a change in washing policy resulted in a fewer number of planes being cleaned at Abbotsford Airport during 1983-84. Therefore, the impact on the aquatic environment recorded during this period cannot be considered typical. / Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies / Graduate
Date11 1900
CreatorsOtt, Cindy Lee
PublisherUniversity of British Columbia
Source SetsUniversity of British Columbia
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeText, Thesis/Dissertation
RightsFor non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use

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