Twenty-four halogenated volatile organic compounds (hVOCs) and SF6 were measured in groundwater samples collected from 312 wells across California at concentrations as low as 10–12 grams per kilogram groundwater. The hVOCs detected are predominately anthropogenic (i.e., “ahVOCs”) and as such their distribution delineates where groundwaters are impacted and susceptible to human activity. ahVOC detections were broadly consistent with air-saturated water concentrations in equilibrium with a combination of industrial-era global and regional hVOC atmospheric abundances. However, detection of ahVOCs in nearly all of the samples collected, including ancient groundwaters, suggests the presence of a sampling or analytical artifact that confounds interpretation of the very-low concentration ahVOC data. To increase our confidence in ahVOC detections we establish screening levels based on ahVOC concentrations in deep wells drawing ancient groundwater in Owens Valley. Concentrations of ahVOCs below the Owens Valley screening levels account for a large number of the detections in prenuclear groundwater across California without significant loss of ahVOC detections in shallow, recently recharged groundwaters. Over 80% of the groundwaters in this study contain at least one ahVOC after screening, indicating that the footprint of human industry is nearly ubiquitous and that most California groundwaters are vulnerable to contamination from land-surface activities.
Additional publication details
Assessing California groundwater susceptibility using trace concentrations of halogenated volatile organic compounds