Confined aquifers are overlain by low-permeability aquitards that are commonly assumed to protect underlying aquifers from microbial contaminants. However, empirical data on microbial contamination beneath aquitards is limited. This study determined the occurrence of human pathogenic viruses in well water from a deep sandstone aquifer confined by a regionally extensive shale aquitard. Three public water-supply wells were each sampled 10 times over 15 months. Samples were analyzed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for several virus groups and by cell culture for infectious enteroviruses. Seven of 30 samples were positive by RT-PCR for enteroviruses; one of these was positive for infectious echovirus 18. The virus-positive samples were collected from two wells cased through the aquitard, indicating the viruses were present in the confined aquifer. Samples from the same wells showed atmospheric tritium, indicating water recharged within the past few decades. Hydrogeologic conditions support rapid porous media transport of viruses through the upper sandstone aquifer to the top of the aquitard 61 m below ground surface. Natural fractures in the shale aquitard are one possible virus transport pathway through the aquitard; however, windows, cross-connecting well bores, or imperfect grout seals along well casings also may be involved. Deep confined aquifers can be more vulnerable to contamination by human viruses than commonly believed. ?? 2007 American Chemical Society.
Additional publication details
Human enteric viruses in groundwater from a confined bedrock aquifer