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Transport, Behavior, and Fate of Volatile Organic Compounds in Streams

Ronald E. Rathbun

U.S. Geological Survey, P.O. Box 25046, Denver Federal Center
Lakewood, CO 80225, Phone (303)467-8250, Telecopier (303) 467-9598,

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are compounds with chemical and physical properties that allow the compounds to move freely between the water and air phases of the environment. VOCs are widespread in the environment because of this mobility. Many VOCs have properties making them suspected or known hazards to the health of humans and aquatic organisms. Consequently, understanding the processes affecting the concentration and distribution of VOCs in the environment is necessary.

The transport, behavior, and fate of VOCs in streams are determined by combinations of chemical, physical, and biological processes. These processes are volatilization, absorption, wet and dry deposition, microbial degradation, sorption, hydrolysis, aquatic photolysis, oxidation, chemical reaction, bioconcentration, advection, and dispersion. The relative importance of each of these processes depends on the characteristics of the VOC and the stream.

The U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment Program selected 55 VOCs for study. This report reviews the characteristics of the various processes that could affect the transport, behavior, and fate of these VOCs in streams.


1998, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1589, 151 p.

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