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Occurrence and distribution of PFAS in sampled source water of public drinking-water supplies in the surficial aquifer in Delaware, 2018; PFAS and groundwater age-dating results

December 8, 2021

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Delaware Geological Survey, conducted a groundwater-quality investigation to (1) describe the occurrence and distribution of PFAS, and (2) document any changes in groundwater quality in the Columbia aquifer public water-supply wells in the Delaware Coastal Plain between 2000 and 2008 and between 2008 and 2018. Thirty public water-supply wells located throughout the Columbia aquifer of the Delaware Coastal Plain were sampled from August through November 2018. Groundwater collected from the wells was analyzed for the occurrence and distribution of 18 per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) as well as groundwater age. Descriptive statistical analyses were performed to assess PFAS analytical results within the well network and the combined perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) concentrations were compared to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health advisory level (HAL) for informational purposes only and not for evidence of compliance or noncompliance with Federal regulations. The EPA’s HAL is a health-based reference level for public drinking water as supplied to customers and is not applied to source (raw) water. Groundwater-age data were compared for sites sampled in 2000, 2008, and 2018 to document any changes.

All samples were analyzed for 18 PFAS using EPA Method 537 (modified). Forty-four percent of the analyzed PFAS were detected in the study well network. Sixteen of the sampled wells have one or more PFAS detections, and as many as eight different PFAS were found in a single sample. Wells with a higher number of PFAS detected (five or more) were in New Castle and Sussex Counties. The PFAS most frequently detected were PFOA, with 47 percent detection; perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), with 33 percent detection; and PFOS and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), with 27 percent detection each. PFAS concentrations were below 1,000 parts per trillion (ppt). Two wells exceeded the EPA’s lifetime-drinking water health advisory level of 70 ppt for combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS.

The average age of groundwater entering the screens of the supply wells sampled in 2018 ranged from 8.2 to 45.8 years, with a median groundwater age of 25.7 years. Groundwater age was positively correlated with well depth and negatively correlated with dissolved oxygen. Groundwater age and PFAS concentrations were negatively correlated in the Columbia aquifer. Data from the 23 resampled wells indicate a significant positive difference in the average modeled groundwater-sample-age results. The average groundwater age from samples collected in 2018 was generally 5 years older than the average groundwater age from samples collected in 2008. The same pattern was found during cycle two (2008) of this study, where the 2008 groundwater age was on average 7 years older than the samples collected in 2000. The distribution of groundwater sample ages among the 17 trend wells and during the three study cycles (2000, 2008, and 2018) indicates that sample-age medians were statistically different from zero; well-water sample-age data show a slight increase in groundwater sample age.

Publication Year 2021
Title Occurrence and distribution of PFAS in sampled source water of public drinking-water supplies in the surficial aquifer in Delaware, 2018; PFAS and groundwater age-dating results
DOI 10.3133/ofr20211109
Authors Betzaida Reyes
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2021-1109
Index ID ofr20211109
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Water Science Center