VOC's in Drinking Water

For most of Pennsylvania, it is not common to find volatile organic compounds in the groundwater.   Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are a class or group of organic chemicals that contain carbon and tell to volatilize or evaporate into the atmosphere, such as: benzene, toluene, etc.  VOCs tend to have a rather sweet taste and a pleasant or strong odor.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that VOCs are present in one-fifth or 20 % of the nation's water supplies, but recent groundwater surveys in Northeastern Pennsylvania suggest that VOCs are likely present in less than 1% of our groundwater systems.   Where VOCs or SOCs (semivolatile organics) have been identified in large amounts, the occurrence tends to be associated with gasoline or oil spills or leaks or improper disposal or leakage of industrial solvents and cleaning agents.

Volatile organic compounds can have a variety of harmful health effects.  The risk to human health is a function of the exposure route, level of exposure, and length of the exposure.  In general, exposure to low levels of certain VOCs over long periods of time may lead to impaired immune system function, may damage the liver or increase the risk of cancer. At high levels of exposure, many VOCs can cause central nervous system depression (drowsiness, stupor). For short-term exposure, it is possible that the organics can irritate the skin or to the mucous membranes if inhaled.

Protecting Your Water

The most effective method for preventing or minimizing the chance for VOC contamination would include:

1. Proper well construction that would included the installation of a sanitary well that intercepts the deeper portions of the freshwater aquifer.  In addition the well design, needs to recreate the confining layers that had been violated by the drilling process.

2. Install a private well that meets the standards for a public water or community water supply well.

3. Properly dispose of your household hazardous materials.

4. Have responsible local zoning and land-development ordinances that protect and help to maintain the groundwater quality.

5. Get the Water Tested !

6. If you need more information on VOCs in water - Download this Free Manual.

Homeowners Get Your Water Tested as 
Part of Our Private Well Owner Drinking Water Testing Program

NEED Baseline Testing Related to Natural Gas Development