Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Civil Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Kelly G. Pennell


This dissertation investigates unexplained vapor intrusion field data sets that have been observed at hazardous waste sites, including: 1) non-linear soil gas concentration trends between the VOC source (i.e. contaminated groundwater plume) and the ground surface; and, 2) alternative pathways that serve as entry points for vapors to infiltrate into buildings and serve to increase VOC exposure risks as compared to the classic vapor intrusion model, which primarily considered foundation cracks as the route for vapor entry. The overall hypothesis of this research is that theoretical knowledge of fate and transport processes can be systematically applied to vapor intrusion field data using a multiple lines of evidence approach to improve the science-based understanding of how and when vapor intrusion exposure risks will pose increased exposure risk; and, ultimately this knowledge can be used to develop policies that reduce exposure risks. The first objective of this research involved numerical modeling, field sampling and laboratory tests to investigate which factors influence soil gas transport within the subsurface. Combining results of all of these studies provide improved understanding of which factors influence VOC fate and transport within the subsurface. Importantly, the results demonstrate a non-linear trend between the VOC source concentration in the subsurface and the ground surface concentration at the study site, which disagrees with many vapor intrusion conceptual models. Ultimately, the source concentration may not be a good predictor of shallow soil gas concentrations. Laboratory tests described the effect of soil characteristics such as the soil water content on VOC vapor diffusion. The numerical model was able to explain specific conditions that could not be described by the field and laboratory data alone. A paper was published that summarizes the major outcomes from this objective (Pennell et al, 2016). The second objective of this research investigated preferential pathways for VOC vapor migration into buildings. Sewer systems can act as important pathways for vapor intrusion. The research objective is to evaluate conditions that increase the potential for inhalation exposure risks via vapor intrusion thorough sewer systems into indoor spaces. A field study was conducted in California over a 4-year period to investigate the spatial and temporal variability of alternative pathways (e.g. aging infrastructure piping systems) within the context of vapor intrusion exposure risks. A paper was published that summarizes the major outcomes from the field study (Roghani et al. 2018). The final research objective involved the development of a numerical model to describe VOC fate and transport within a sewer system. The numerical model predicts VOC mass transport. The model results were compared to the field data and provides insight about the role preferential pathways play in increasing VOC exposure risks.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (Award #1452800) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (Award #P42ES007380).