Groundwater contaminant fluctuation at a landfill: a case study of the Coastal Park Landfill, Cape Town


  • M Baderoon Waste Management, Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, 3 Dorp Street, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
  • K Winter Environmental and Geographical Science Department, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa



landfill groundwater, sampling schedules, groundwater pollution lag


Rainfall has been shown to be the main cause of elevated nutrient pollution in groundwater beneath landfills. However, groundwater monitoring is often based on predetermined schedules without considering rainfall patterns. This study examined how rainfall patterns affect fluctuations in groundwater quality at the Coastal Park landfill in Cape Town, South Africa, and the relevance of current groundwater sampling schedules. Boreholes upstream and downstream of two large waste cells, one lined and the other unlined, were monitored for 15 weeks during the onset of the rainy season to detect changes in the groundwater level, pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrate, and phosphate. Rainfall patterns strongly affected the groundwater parameters, with widely varying fluctuation patterns and lag times. Conductivity peaked downstream of the lined cell 10 weeks later than at the unlined cell, with widely different fluctuation patterns (R2 = 0.36). Ammonia peaked downstream of both the unlined and lined cells well before the early rains, with very similar fluctuation patterns (R2 = 0.97), although it peaked 6 times higher in the unlined cell. Nitrate peaked at Weeks 2 to 4 downstream of the unlined and the lined cell, with a weak correlation (R2 = 0.56). A shorter nitrate peak and a net decrease throughout the rainy season were observed downstream of the lined cell. Phosphate showed a brief, multi-fold increase at Week 3 downstream of both the unlined and lined cells, displaying pH-induced mobilisation and a very strong correlation (R2 = 0.99) between these locations. Lag times and fluctuation patterns varied depending on the presence of liners, and rainfall patterns. Therefore, the low frequency sampling required by many South African landfill waste management permits and licences cannot identify pollutant peak concentrations or describe their trends, and high frequency sampling should be considered.


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How to Cite

M Baderoon, & K Winter. (2024). Groundwater contaminant fluctuation at a landfill: a case study of the Coastal Park Landfill, Cape Town. Water SA, 50(1 January).



Research paper