Occurrence and distribution of methyl tert-butyl ether and other volatile organic compounds in drinking water in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, 1993-98

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2000-4228




Data on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in drinking water supplied by 2,110 randomly selected community water systems (CWSs) in 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States indicate 64 VOC analytes were detected at least once during 1993-98. Selection of the 2,110 CWSs inventoried for this study targeted 20 percent of the 10,479 active CWSs in the region and represented a random subset of the total distribution by State, source of water, and size of system. The data include 21,635 analyses of drinking water collected for compliance monitoring under the Safe Drinking Water Act; the data mostly represent finished drinking water collected at the pointof- entry to, or at more distal locations within, each CWS?s distribution system following any watertreatment processes. VOC detections were more common in drinking water supplied by large systems (serving more than 3,300 people) that tap surface-water sources or both surface- and groundwater sources than in small systems supplied exclusively by ground-water sources. Trihalomethane (THM) compounds, which are potentially formed during the process of disinfecting drinking water with chlorine, were detected in 45 percent of the randomly selected CWSs. Chloroform was the most frequently detected THM, reported in 39 percent of the CWSs. The gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) was the most frequently detected VOC in drinking water after the THMs. MTBE was detected in 8.9 percent of the 1,194 randomly selected CWSs that analyzed samples for MTBE at any reporting level, and it was detected in 7.8 percent of the 1,074 CWSs that provided MTBE data at the 1.0-?g/L (microgram per liter) reporting level. As with other VOCs reported in drinking water, most MTBE concentrations were less than 5.0 ?g/L, and less than 1 percent of CWSs reported MTBE concentrations at or above the 20.0-?g/L lower limit recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?s Drinking-Water Advisory. The frequency of MTBE detections in drinking water is significantly related to high- MTBE-use patterns. Detections are five times more likely in areas where MTBE is or has been used in gasoline at greater than 5 percent by volume as part of the oxygenated or reformulated (OXY/RFG) fuels program. Detection frequencies of the individual gasoline compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX)) were mostly less than 3 percent of the randomly selected CWSs, but collectively, BTEX compounds were detected in 8.4 percent of CWSs. BTEX concentrations also were low and just three drinkingwater samples contained BTEX at concentrations exceeding 20 ?g/L. Co-occurrence of MTBE and BTEX was rare, and only 0.8 percent of CWSs reported simultaneous detections of MTBE and BTEX compounds. Low concentrations and cooccurrence of MTBE and BTEX indicate most gasoline contaminants in drinking water probably represent nonpoint sources. Solvents were frequently detected in drinking water in the 12-State area. One or more of 27 individual solvent VOCs were detected at any reporting level in 3,080 drinking-water samples from 304 randomly selected CWSs (14 percent) and in 206 CWSs (9.8 percent) at concentrations at or above 1.0 ?g/L. High co-occurrence among solvents probably reflects common sources and the presence of transformation by-products. Other VOCs were relatively rarely detected in drinking water in the 12-State area. Six percent (127) of the 2,110 randomly selected CWSs reported concentrations of 16 VOCs at or above drinking-water criteria. The 127 CWSs collectively serve 2.6 million people. The occurrence of VOCs in drinking water was significantly associated (p<0.0001) with high population- density urban areas. New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, States with substantial urbanization and high population density, had the highest frequency of VOC detections among the 12 States. More than two-thirds of the randomly selected CWSs in New Jersey reported detecting VOC concentrations in drinking water at or above 1

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Occurrence and distribution of methyl tert-butyl ether and other volatile organic compounds in drinking water in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, 1993-98
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Water-Resources Investigations Report
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123 p.