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Analyses of water samples collected from 29 wells across the Boston metropolitan area indicate that shallow ground water in recently urbanized settings often contains trace amounts of nutrients, fuel, and industrial-based organic compounds. Most of the samples that contained detectable amounts of organic compounds also had elevated levels of iron and total dissolved solids. Nitrate was detected in 83 percent of the samples, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA) drinking-water standard of 10 milligrams per liter nitrate was exceeded in just one sample. Low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected in 76 percent of the samples, with as many as 13 different VOCs detected in a single sample. The concentration of methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE) in one sample was 267 micrograms per liter, which exceeds the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection drinking-water guideline of 70 micrograms per liter. Chloroform and MTBE were the two most frequently detected VOCs. MTBE was detected at the same frequency in ground water in the Boston metropolitan area as in other urban areas of New England. Chloroform is detected at higher frequency in old, densely populated areas in New England than in more recently developed, less densely populated areas. Pesticide detections were few, but only at trace concentrations, and none of the concentrations exceeded any drinking-water standard.
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Shallow ground-water quality in the Boston, Massachusetts metropolitan area