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Summary of Published Aquatic Toxicity Information and Water-Quality Criteria for Selected Volatile Organic Compounds

Barbara L. Rowe, Sondra J. Landrigan, and Thomas J. Lopes

U.S. Geological Survey, 1608 Mountain View Road, Rapid City, SD 57702
Phone (605) 355-4560 ext. 236, Telecopier (605) 355-4523,

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are being measured in stream samples as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. Published freshwater aquatic toxicity information and water-quality criteria for VOCs were compiled to compare with the measured concentrations. Aquatic toxicity information for VOCs was retrieved from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA's) toxicity data base, AQUatic toxicity Information REtrieval (AQUIRE). Toxicity information that had complete or moderately complete documentation was available for 60 of the 87 VOCs that are being measured in water samples. Most toxicity information was from studies of 96 hours or less, and species mortality was typically the endpoint of the toxicity test. A number of published studies using the same species, duration, and endpoint were available for some VOCs. In these instances, only the two studies that reported the lowest concentrations that had an effect were included in the summary. VOCs that had the lowest concentrations that affected a species ranged between 6.5 g/L (micrograms per liter) for 1,1,2,3,4,4-hexachloro-1,3-butadiene and 5,091,000 g/L for 2-butanone.

The USEPA and Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment have established water-quality criteria and guidelines for 39 of the 87 VOCs measured in water samples by the NAWQA Program. Criteria and guidelines range from 0.1 g/L for 1,1,2,3,4,4-hexachloro-1,3-butadiene to 860,000 g/L for 3-chloro-1-propene and chloroethane. These water-quality criteria, guidelines, and toxicity information will be used by NAWQA to assess the status of the Nation's water quality and are available for use by individuals, agencies, and organizations to evaluate the potential effect of VOCs on aquatic life in streams and rivers.


1997, U.S. Geological Survey, Open-File Report, OFR 97-563.

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