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Chlorinated solvents are the most ubiquitous organic contaminants found in groundwater since the last six decades. Due to their high degree of carcinogenicity/toxicity and the relatively high mobility and persistence, they represent a serious threat against the human health and the environment. These contaminants generally reach groundwater as Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid (DNAPL) that can migrate through aquifers easier than aqueous contaminants. The complex phase partitioning to which chlorinated solvent DNAPLs can undergo (i.e. to the dissolved, vapor or sorbed phase), as well as their transformations (e.g. degradation), depend on the physico-chemical properties of the contaminants and on the features of the hydrogeological system in which they migrate. The hydrogeologic setting below the city of Ferrara (Po plain, northern Italy), which is affected by scattered contamination by chlorinated solvents, has been investigated. In particular, a limited-inspace high-resolution investigation was performed in one selected contaminated test-site, known as “Caretti site”. Here, high-resolution vertical profiling of different kind of data (i.e. stratigraphic data, hydraulic heads, hydrochemical composition of water, stable isotopes of water and contaminants) were collected by means of multilevel monitoring systems and other innovative sampling and analytical techniques. The main goals of the research were to assess the intrinsic vulnerability of the aquifers and to identify the dynamics of migration and transformation of the chloroethene contaminants in relationship to the features of the hosting porous medium. The confined aquifers turned out to be more vulnerable to DNAPLs than aqueous contaminants due to the occurrence of microfractures in the overlying clayey aquitards. The presence of organic-rich deposits in the local stratigraphy enhanced the biodegradation of chloroethenes causing accumulation of Vinyl Chloride. The results are useful at the local scale, e.g. to interpret the origin of contamination in other sites of the Ferrara area, and also at the global scale, to better address future remediation and protection actions in similar settings.
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