Reduction/oxidation (redox) conditions in 15 principal aquifer (PA) systems of the United States, and their impact on several water quality issues, were assessed from a large data base collected by the National Water-Quality Assessment Program of the USGS. The logic of these assessments was based on the observed ecological succession of electron acceptors such as dissolved oxygen, nitrate, and sulfate and threshold concentrations of these substrates needed to support active microbial metabolism. Similarly, the utilization of solid-phase electron acceptors such as Mn(IV) and Fe(III) is indicated by the production of dissolved manganese and iron. An internally consistent set of threshold concentration criteria was developed and applied to a large data set of 1692 water samples from the PAs to assess ambient redox conditions. The indicated redox conditions then were related to the occurrence of selected natural (arsenic) and anthropogenic (nitrate and volatile organic compounds) contaminants in ground water. For the natural and anthropogenic contaminants assessed in this study, considering redox conditions as defined by this framework of redox indicator species and threshold concentrations explained many water quality trends observed at a regional scale. An important finding of this study was that samples indicating mixed redox processes provide information on redox heterogeneity that is useful for assessing common water quality issues. Given the interpretive power of the redox framework and given that it is relatively inexpensive and easy to measure the chemical parameters included in the framework, those parameters should be included in routine water quality monitoring programs whenever possible.
Additional publication details
Redox processes and water quality of selected principal aquifer systems