Chester County ground-water atlas, Chester County, Pennsylvania

Open-File Report 2003-442

Prepared in cooperation with the Chester County Water Resources Authority and the Chester County Health Department
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Chester County encompasses 760 square miles in southeastern Pennsylvania. Groundwater-quality studies have been conducted in the county over several decades to address specific hydrologic issues. This report compiles and describes water-quality data collected during studies conducted mostly after 1990 and summarizes the data in a county-wide perspective.

In this report, water-quality constituents are described in regard to what they are, why the constituents are important, and where constituent concentrations vary relative to geology or land use. Water-quality constituents are grouped into logical units to aid presentation: water-quality constituents measured in the field (pH, alkalinity, specific conductance, and dissolved oxygen), common ions, metals, radionuclides, bacteria, nutrients, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds. Water-quality constituents measured in the field, common ions (except chloride), metals, and radionuclides are discussed relative to geology. Bacteria, nutrients, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds are discussed relative to land use. If the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) or Chester County Health Department has drinking water standards for a constituent, the standards are included. Tables and maps are included to assist Chester County residents in understanding the water-quality constituents and their distribution in the county.

Ground water in Chester County generally is of good quality and is mostly acidic except in the carbonate rocks and serpentinite, where it is neutral to strongly basic. Calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate are major constituents of these rocks. Both compounds have high solubility, and, as such, both are major contributors to elevated pH, alkalinity, specific conductance, and the common ions. Elevated pH and alkalinity in carbonate rocks and serpentinite can indicate a potential for scaling in water heaters and household plumbing. Low pH and low alkalinity in the schist, quartzite, and gneiss rocks can indicate a potential for corrosive water. The only constituent measured in the field that has a USEPA Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level (SMCL) is pH. The SMCL for pH is 6.5-8.5; 64 percent of samples analyzed for pH were acidic (below pH 6.5). Only 1 percent of samples were basic (above pH 8.5).

Of the common ions, the USEPA has SMCLs for chloride, sulfate, and total dissolved solids. The USEPA has a SMCL and a Primary Maximum Contaminant Level (PMCL) for fluoride. Chloride is more closely related to land use than geology. In Chester County, chloride exceeded the SMCL (250 mg/L) only in 5 percent of the services (commercial services, community services, and military) land-use areas. No samples analyzed for sulfate exceeded the SMCL (250 mg/L). Only 3 percent of samples analyzed for total dissolved solids exceeded the SMCL (500 milligrams per liter) (mg/L). No samples analyzed for fluoride equaled or exceeded the SMCL (2.0 mg/L) or PMCL (4.0 mg/L).

Iron concentrations exceeded the USEPA SMCL in 11 percent of samples and were highest in schist (14 percent) and gneiss (13 percent). Manganese concentrations exceeded the SMCL in 19 percent of samples and were highest in quartzite and schist (both 28 percent). Lead and arsenic were present in low concentrations: the highest concentrations of lead occurred in water from quartzite (8 percent exceeded the USEPA Action Level), and arsenic was detected mostly in Triassic sedimentary rocks (9 percent exceeded the USEPA PMCL). The highest concentrations of copper occurred more frequently in quartzite rocks, and to a lesser extent were evenly distributed between ground water in gneiss, schist, and Triassic sedimentary rocks.

Elevated concentrations of radon-222 and the combined radium-226/radium-228 radionuclides were common in water from quartzite and schist. Gross alpha and gross beta particle activities were elevated in water from quartzite and carbonate rocks. In contrast, elevated concentrations of uranium primarily were measured in water from Triassic sedimentary and carbonate rocks.

Despite a sampling bias towards agricultural land use, only two samples indicated the presence of fecal coliforms.

Samples analyzed for nutrients generally exhibited low concentrations, but about 11 percent of samples collected for nitrate exceeded the USEPA PMCL. Only one nitrite sample (less than 1 percent) exceeded the respective USEPA PMCL.

Approximately 190 samples were collected for each of the three pesticides in this report: lindane, dieldrin, and diazinon. Sampling was biased towards agricultural, low-medium density residential, and wooded land uses. Approximately 95 percent of samples for each pesticide were below minimum reporting levels (MRL). Only lindane has a USEPA PMCL, and only one sample exceeded the standard. Results for dieldrin and diazinon were similar, except results for two diazinon samples where concentrations were 57.0 and 490 micrograms per liter (μg/L).

Volatile organic compounds in this report were analyzed in water from 198 samples. Sampling was biased towards agricultural, low-medium density residential, and wooded land uses. Two percent of samples analyzed for trichloroethylene and less than 1 percent of samples analyzed for tetrachloroethylene exceeded their respective USEPA PMCLs (each 5.0 μg/L). No samples analyzed for 1,1,1-trichloroethane exceeded the USEPA PMCL (200 μg/L). No samples analyzed for methyl tert-butyl ether exceeded the USEPA Drinking Water Advisory (20μg/L).

Suggested Citation

Ludlow, R.A., and Loper, Connie A., 2004, Chester County ground-water atlas, Chester County, Pennsylvania: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2003–0442, 85 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Ground-water data collection, management, and analysis
  • Water-quality characteristics measured in the field 
  • Common ions
  • Metals
  • Radionuclides 
  • Bacteria
  • Nutrients
  • Pesticides
  • Volatile organic compounds 
  • Summary
  • References cited

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Chester County ground-water atlas, Chester County, Pennsylvania
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Pennsylvania Water Science Center
viii, 85 p.
Additional Online Files (Y/N):