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Groundwater-quality monitoring program in Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1980-2008

July 15, 2010

The U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Chester County Water Resources Authority and the Chester County Health Department began a groundwater-quality monitoring program in 1980 in Chester County, Pa., where a large percentage of the population relies on wells for drinking-water supply. This report documents the program and serves as a reference for data collected through the program from 1980 through 2008.

The initial focus of the program was to collect data on groundwater quality near suspected localized sources of contamination, such as uncontrolled landfills and suspected industrial wastes, to determine if contaminants were present that might pose a health risk to those using the groundwater. Subsequently, the program was expanded to address the effects of widely distributed contaminant sources associated with agricultural and residential land uses on groundwater quality and to document naturally occurring constituents, such as radium, radon, and arsenic, that are potential hazards in drinking water. Since 2000, base-flow stream samples have been collected in addition to well-water and spring samples in a few small drainage areas to investigate the relation between groundwater quality measured in well samples and streams. The program has primarily consisted of spatial assessment with limited temporal data collected on groundwater quality. Most data were collected through the monitoring program for reconnaissance purposes to identify and locate groundwater-quality problems and generally were not intended for rigorous statistical analyses that might determine land-use or geochemical factors affecting groundwater quality in space or through time.

Results of the program found several contaminants associated with various land uses and human activities in groundwater in Chester County. Volatile organic compounds (such as trichloroethylene) were measured in groundwater near suspected localized contaminant sources in concentrations that exceeded drinking-water standards. Groundwater in some agricultural areas had concentrations of nitrate and some pesticides that exceeded drinking-water standards. Elevated concentrations of chloride were measured near salt storage areas and highways. Formaldehyde was detected in groundwater near cemeteries. In residential areas with on-site wastewater disposal, effects on groundwater quality included elevated nitrate concentrations and low concentrations of volatile organic compounds and wastewater compounds, such as antibiotics and detergents. Base-flow samples indicated that groundwater discharge to streams carried contaminants such as nitrate, pesticides, wastewater compounds, and other contaminants.

Radionuclides, including radium-226, radium-228, radium-224, and radon-222, and gross alpha-particle activity were measured in groundwater at levels above established and proposed drinking-water standards in some geologic units, particularly in quartzite and quartzite schists. Arsenic concentrations above drinking-water standards were measured in a few samples and were most likely to occur in groundwater in the shales and sandstones in the northern part of the county. Other potential natural hazards, such as lead from aquifer materials or leached from plumbing because of pH, were present in concentrations above drinking-water standards infrequently (less than 10 percent of samples).

Limited temporal sampling suggested that chloride concentrations in groundwater increased in the county since the program began in 1980 through 2008, reflecting increasing population and urbanization in that period.