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Volatile organic compounds in ground water from rural private wells

By Michael Moran and Pixie Hamilton


The U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program collected or compiled data on ground water from 1,926 private wells in rural areas across the United States from 1986 to 1999. These private wells, also called domestic wells, are owned and operated by the homeowner and provide water for household uses, including drinking, food preparation, watering lawns and gardens, bathing, and washing clothes. The samples from these wells were analyzed for 55 volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

VOCs are important to study because they have been produced and used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications for many decades, and some VOCs are found in a variety of household products. VOCs have properties that allow them to move freely between the atmosphere, soil, surface water, and ground water. Some VOCs have federally established drinking-water standards or health criteria.

This article summarizes the results of a NAWQA study on VOCs in private wells (Moran and others, 2002). This study is important because: 1) few studies have examined the presence of VOCs in private wells, 2) many of these compounds have human health concerns in drinking water, and 3) VOCs have been detected widely in ground-water resources including public-water supplies.

Although most private wells in this study did not contain any VOCs, this assessment is a first step in better understanding the state of water quality from rural private wells. This study will help identify current contamination issues associated with private wells and provide additional information that is needed to better protect this critical resource from contamination.

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