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Urban stormwater: An overlooked pathway of extensive mixed contaminants to surface and groundwaters in the United States

August 21, 2019

Increasing global reliance on stormwater control measures to reduce discharge to surface water, increase groundwater recharge, and minimize contaminant delivery to receiving waterbodies necessitates improved understanding of stormwater-contaminant profiles. A multi-agency study of organic and inorganic chemicals in urban stormwater from 50 runoff events at 21 sites across the United States demonstrated that stormwater transports substantial mixtures of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, bioactive contaminants (pesticides and pharmaceuticals), and other organic chemicals known or suspected to pose environmental health concern. Numerous organic-chemical detections per site (median number of chemicals detected = 73), individual concentrations exceeding 10,000 ng/L, and cumulative concentrations up to 263,000 ng/L suggested concern for potential environmental effects during runoff events. Organic concentrations, loads, and yields were positively correlated with impervious surfaces and highly developed urban catchments. Episodic storm-event organic concentrations and loads were comparable to and often exceeded those of daily wastewater plant discharges. Inorganic chemical concentrations were generally dilute in concentration and did not exceed chronic aquatic life criteria. Methylmercury was measured in 90% of samples with concentrations that ranged from 0.05 to 1.0 ng/L.