Organic chemicals or VOC's are one class of contaminants that can be particularly worrisome if they are detected at elevated levels.
Keeping your well water healthy is a big responsibility. As a homeowner, if you receive your water from a private well the testing and maintenance of your water along with your water delivery system is your responsibility. The EPA recommends annual testing of your well water. It can help you to detect any problems in your well water quality so you can begin treatment if necessary.
There are many contaminants both naturally occurring and man-made that can affect your water. Organic chemicals or VOC's are one class of contaminants that can be particularly worrisome if they are detected at elevated levels. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about VOCs, what they are, how they enter your water supply and what to do if annual testing detects high levels of VOCs in your well water.
What are organic chemicals or VOCs?
Volatile organic chemicals are compounds which contain carbon and evaporate easily from water into the air at normal temperatures. This is why the distinctive odor of gasoline or other solvents can easily be detected. VOCs are used in a variety of commercial, industrial and residential products like fuel oils, gasoline, solvents like paint thinners, cleaners, degreasers, paints, inks, dyes, refrigerants, and pesticides.
VOC exposure commonly occurs through the air, in food, through skin contact and potentially in drinking water.
How do VOCs get into my well water?
VOCs are present in the environment due to human activity like spills or through improper disposal. Most will evaporate, but some will soak into the ground where they are carried by rainwater or snowmelt, eventually reaching groundwater supplies. When VOCs migrate through groundwater, they can eventually end up in drinking water.
There are several major factors that can increase a risk of contamination to water supplies. The main factor being the distance between your well and a source of contamination such as an industrial area, gas station, or landfill. Another factor is the amount of VOCs dumped or spilled. Small localized spills are often not a factor, but undetected long-term leaks for example, at a gas station or underground industrial storage tank, may affect a larger geographic area. Well, depth and geology can also affect contamination risk with shallow wells or wells in dug into thin sandy soil being more vulnerable than deeper wells drilled through the dense thickly layered soil.
What are the health effects of VOCs in drinking water?
The effects of VOCs can vary widely depending on their chemical makeup. Researchers have collected extensive data about health effects from animal studies and human exposure to large quantities of chemicals in the workplace. Safe drinking water levels have been established by the EPA and other state agencies. VOCs at levels that are higher than the established maximum levels may be harmful to the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys. Skin contact with VOCs can cause irritation and VOCs may irritate mucous membranes if inhaled. Some VOCs may cause certain cancers if ingested in large quantities over a long period, but direct links are difficult to establish, and the health risks at low levels are believed to be small.
Should I test my well for VOC's?
Your annual testing should include testing for VOCs. Additionally, if you notice a change in the taste or odor of your drinking water (especially a gasoline or solvent smell), you may want to schedule a test. Finally, if a major spill or leak is detected or reported in a nearby area like an industrial park, gas station or railroad yard, or if you live in an agricultural area, you may want to test more frequently.
What can I do if my well tests positive for elevated VOC levels?
If your well has tested positive for elevated VOC levels, you should have a second test performed to confirm those results before you take any action to treat or replace your well. If high-level contamination is confirmed, you may consider the construction of a safe, uncontaminated well. If levels detected are elevated but not excessive, there are treatment options available. Point-of-use or point-of-entry systems that include activated carbon filtration are effective at removing many VOCs but must be properly installed and regularly maintained. The best solution is to speak with your well water professional.
Your well water professional can arrange a test, help you to analyze the results, and provide you with viable options for treatment. Contact an expert water well technician at Skillings & Sons. Remember, the quality of your well water is your responsibility. Testing can determine if you have a problem. Your well water professional can help you to identify the source of the contamination and the options to remedy any problems. Remember, it's extremely important to determine exactly what contaminants may be present before choosing a treatment system. Your well water professional is ready to help!