Summary

On April 28th, the Environmental and Energy Institute (EESI) held a Congressional briefing co-sponsored by the Water Environment Federation, and the National Ground Water Association in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to raise awareness of volatile organic compounds in ground and drinking water. Briefing speakers included:

Robert Hirsch, USGS Associate Director for Water
John Zogorski, NAWQA VOC Synthesis Team Leader

The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) released at this briefing its nationwide assessment on the occurrence and concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in ground water and drinking-water supply wells. Briefing speakers described elements of the NAWQA design and significance of NAWQA’s studies, provided a context for the VOC findings, and presented key findings and their implications.

VOCs are produced in large volumes and are associated with a myriad of products, such as plastics, adhesives, paints, gasoline, fumigants, refrigerants, and dry-cleaning fluids. Widespread and long-term use of VOCs and their ability to persist and migrate in ground water raises questions about their possible effects on the environment, including drinking water. The USGS assessment provides the most comprehensive national-scale analysis to date of VOC occurrence and the potential for effects on human health.

USGS findings can be used to help guide and inform state and national policies for ground water and drinking-water protection. For example, the science-based insights can identify and prioritize commonly detected VOCs for continued monitoring and can help decisions makers better anticipate the types of VOCs most likely to occur in urban areas and other land-use settings. Early findings from these studies discovered the widespread and relatively rapid presence of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) in ground water after its extensive use as an oxygenate in gasoline.

Speaker Slides