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Volatile organic compounds in groundwater used for public supply across the United States: Occurrence, explanatory factors, and human-health context

March 11, 2022

This systematic assessment of occurrence for 85 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in raw (untreated) groundwater used for public supply across the United States (U.S.), which includes 43 compounds not previously monitored by national studies, relates VOC occurrence to explanatory factors and assesses VOC detections in a human-health context. Samples were collected in 2013 through 2019 from 1537 public-supply wells in aquifers representing 78% of the volume pumped for public drinking-water supply. Laboratory detection limits for VOCs generally were less than 0.1 μg/L. Detections were reported for 36% of the sampled principal-aquifer area (38% of sampled wells) and were most common in wells in shallow, unconfined aquifers in urban areas that produce high proportions of modern-age and oxic groundwater. The disinfection by-product trichloromethane (chloroform) was the most commonly detected VOC associated primarily with anthropogenic sources (24% of the sampled area, 25% of sampled wells), followed by the gasoline oxygenate methyl tert-butyl ether (8.4% of area, 11% of wells). Carbon disulfide (12% of area, 14% of wells) was examined separately because of likely substantial contributions from natural sources. Newly monitored VOCs were each detected in <1% of the sampled area. Although detections of 1,4-dioxane in this first national study of its occurrence in raw groundwater were rare, measured concentrations exceeded the most stringent (non-enforceable) human-health benchmark in 0.5% of the sampled area (9 wells). Two wells had exceedances of enforceable benchmarks for tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, and 50 wells total (representing 2.0% of the sampled area, 3.3% of sampled wells) had combined VOC concentrations exceeding 10% of benchmarks of any type. Compared with previous national findings, this study reports lower rates of VOC detection, but confirms widespread anthropogenic influence on groundwater used for public supply, with relatively few concentrations of individual VOCs or mixtures that approach or exceed human-health benchmarks.

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