An assessment of correlations between chlorinated VOC concentrations in tree tissue and groundwater for phytoscreening applications

Candice M. Duncan, Mark L. Brusseau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The majority of prior phytoscreening applications have employed the method as a tool to qualitatively determine the presence of contamination in the subsurface. Although qualitative data is quite useful, this study explores the potential for using phytoscreening quantitatively. The existence of site-specific and non-site-specific (master) correlations between VOC concentrations in tree tissue and groundwater is investigated using data collected from several phytoscreening studies. The aggregated data comprise 100 measurements collected from 12 sites that span a wide range of site conditions. Significant site-specific correlations are observed between tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE) concentrations measured for tree tissue and those measured in groundwater for three sites. A moderately significant correlation (r2 = 0.56) exists for the entire aggregate data set. Parsing the data by groundwater depth produced a highly significant correlation (r2 = 0.88) for sites with shallow (< 4 m) groundwater. Such a significant correlation for data collected by different investigators from multiple sites with a wide range of tree species and subsurface conditions indicates that groundwater concentration is the predominant factor mediating tree-tissue concentrations for these sites. This may be a result of trees likely directly tapping groundwater for these shallow groundwater conditions. This master correlation may provide reasonable order-of-magnitude estimates of VOC concentrations in groundwater for such sites, thereby allowing the use of phytoscreening in a more quantitative mode.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)875-880
Number of pages6
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Phytoscreening
  • Site characterization
  • Tree core samples
  • VOCs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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