During an investigation in 2000 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) of possible contaminant releases from an industrial facility on Congo Road near Gilbertsville in Berks and Montgomery Counties, southeastern Pennsylvania, concentrations of arsenic and fluoride above USEPA drinking-water standards of 10 ?g/L and 4 mg/L, respectively, and of boron above the USEPA health advisory level of 600 ?g/L were measured in ground water in an area along the northwestern edge of the Newark Basin. In 2003, the USEPA requested technical assistance from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to help identify sources of arsenic, boron, and fluoride in the ground water in the Congo Road area, which included possible anthropogenic releases and naturally occurring mineralization in the local bedrock aquifer, and to identify other areas in the Newark Basin of southeastern Pennsylvania with similarly elevated concentrations of these constituents. The USGS reviewed available data and collected additional ground-water samples in the Congo Road area and four similar hydrogeologic settings.
The Newark Basin is the largest of the 13 major exposed Mesozoic rift basins that stretch from Nova Scotia to South Carolina. Rocks in the Newark Basin include Triassic through Jurassic-age sedimentary sequences of sandstones and shales that were intruded by diabase. Mineral deposits of hydrothermal origin are associated with alteration zones bordering intrusions of diabase and also occur as strata-bound replacement deposits of copper and zinc in sedimentary rocks.
The USGS review of data available in 2003 showed that water from about 10 percent of wells throughout the Newark Basin of southeastern Pennsylvania had concentrations of arsenic greater than the USEPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 ?g/L; the highest reported arsenic concentration was at about 70 ?g/L. Few data on boron were available, and the highest reported boron concentration in well-water samples was 60 ?g/L in contrast to concentrations over 5,000 ?g/L in the Congo Road area. Although concentrations of fluoride up to 4 mg/L were reported for a few well-water samples collected throughout the Newark Basin, about 90 percent of the samples had concentrations of 0.5 mg/L or less.
The USGS sampled 58 wells primarily in 5 areas in the Newark Basin, southeastern Pennsylvania, from February 2004 through April 2005 to identify other possible areas of elevated arsenic, boron, and fluoride and to characterize the geochemical environment associated with elevated concentrations of these constituents. Sampled wells included 12 monitor wells at an industrial facility near Congo Road, 45 private-supply wells in Berks, Montgomery, and Bucks Counties, and 1 private-supply well near Dillsburg, York County, an area where elevated fluoride in ground water had been reported in the adjacent Gettysburg Basin. Wells were sampled in transects from the diabase through the adjacent hornfels and into the unaltered shales of the Brunswick Group. Field measurements were made of pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen concentration, and specific conductance. Samples were analyzed in the laboratory for major ions, nutrients, total organic carbon, dissolved and total concentrations of selected trace elements, and boron isotopic composition.
Generally, the ground water from the 46 private-supply wells had relatively neutral to alkaline pH (ranging from 6.1 to 9.1) and moderate concentrations of dissolved oxygen. Most water samples were of the calcium-bicarbonate type. Concentrations of arsenic up to 60 ?g/L, boron up to 3,950 ?g/L, and fluoride up to 0.70 mg/L were measured. Drinking-water standards or health advisories (for constituents that do not have standards established) were exceeded most frequently (about 20 percent of samples) for arsenic and boron and less frequently (6 percent or less of samples) for total iron, manganese, sulfate, nitrate, lead, molybdenum, and strontium. In water from 12 monitor