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Summary of selected U.S. Geological survey data on domestic well water quality for the Centers for Disease Control's National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program

November 17, 2007

About 10 to 30 percent of the population in most States uses domestic (private) water supply. In many States, the total number of people served by domestic supplies can be in the millions. The water quality of domestic supplies is inconsistently regulated and generally not well characterized. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has two water-quality data sets in the National Water Information System (NWIS) database that can be used to help define the water quality of domestic-water supplies: (1) data from the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program, and (2) USGS State data. Data from domestic wells from the NAWQA Program were collected to meet one of the Program's objectives, which was to define the water quality of major aquifers in the United States. These domestic wells were located primarily in rural areas. Water-quality conditions in these major aquifers as defined by the NAWQA data can be compared because of the consistency of the NAWQA sampling design, sampling protocols, and water-quality analyses. The NWIS database is a repository of USGS water data collected for a variety of projects; consequently, project objectives and analytical methods vary. This variability can bias statistical summaries of contaminant occurrence and concentrations; nevertheless, these data can be used to define the geographic distribution of contaminants. Maps created using NAWQA and USGS State data in NWIS can show geographic areas where contaminant concentrations may be of potential human-health concern by showing concentrations relative to human-health water-quality benchmarks.

On the basis of national summaries of detection frequencies and concentrations relative to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) human-health benchmarks for trace elements, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds, 28 water-quality constituents were identified as contaminants of potential human-health concern. From this list, 11 contaminants were selected for summarization of water-quality data in 16 States (grantee States) that were funded by the Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Only data from domestic-water supplies were used in this summary because samples from these wells are most relevant to human exposure for the targeted population. Using NAWQA data, the concentrations of the 11 contaminants were compared to USEPA human-health benchmarks. Using NAWQA and USGS State data in NWIS, the geographic distribution of the contaminants were mapped for the 16 grantee States. Radon, arsenic, manganese, nitrate, strontium, and uranium had the largest percentages of samples with concentrations greater than their human-health benchmarks. In contrast, organic compounds (pesticides and volatile organic compounds) had the lowest percentages of samples with concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks.

Results of data retrievals and spatial analysis were compiled for each of the 16 States and are presented in State summaries for each State. Example summary tables, graphs, and maps based on USGS data for New Jersey are presented to illustrate how USGS water-quality and associated ancillary geospatial data can be used by the CDC to address goals and objectives of the EPHT Program.