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Preserving Ground Water Samples with Hydrochloric Acid Des Not Result in the Formation of Chloroform

Paul J. Squillace, James F. Pankow, Jack E. Barbash, Curtis V. Price, and John S. Zogorski

1608 Mountain View Road, Rapid City, South Dakota 57702 U.S.A.
Phone (605) 355-4560 ext. 239, Telecopier (605) 355-4523, pjsquill@usgs.gov


Water samples collected for the determination of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are often preserved with hydrochloric acid (HCl) to inhibit the biotransformation of the analytes of interest until the chemical analyses can be performed. However, it is theoretically possible that residual free chlorine in the HCl can react with dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to form chloroform via the haloform reaction. Analyses of 1501 ground water samples preserved with HCl from the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program indicate that chloroform was the most commonly detected VOC among 60 VOCs monitored. The DOC concentrations were not significantly larger in samples with detectable chloroform than in those with no detectable chloroform, nor was there any correlation between the concentrations of chloroform and DOC. Furthermore, chloroform was detected more frequently in shallow ground water in urban areas (28.5% of the wells sampled) than in agricultural areas (1.6% of the wells sampled), which indicates that its detection was more related to urban land-use activities than to sample acidification. These data provide strong evidence that acidification with HCl does not lead to the production of significant amounts of chloroform in ground water samples. To verify these results, an acidification study was designed to measure the concentrations of all trihalomethanes (THMs) that can form as a result of HCl preservation in ground water samples and to determine if ascorbic acid (C6H8O6) could inhibit this reaction if it did occur. This study showed that no THMs were formed as a result of HCl acidification, and that ascorbic acid had no discernible effect on the concentrations of THMs measured.

Published:

Ground Water and Remediation, Winter, 1999, p. 67-74.

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