As part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), water samples were collected during 1991-2004 from domestic wells (private wells used for household drinking water) for analysis of drinking-water contaminants, where contaminants are considered, as defined by the Safe Drinking Water Act, to be all substances in water. Physical properties and the concentrations of major ions, trace elements, nutrients, radon, and organic compounds (pesticides and volatile organic compounds) were measured in as many as 2,167 wells; fecal indicator bacteria and radionuclides also were measured in some wells. The wells were located within major hydrogeologic settings of 30 regionally extensive aquifers used for water supply in the United States. One sample was collected from each well prior to any in-home treatment. Concentrations were compared to water-quality benchmarks for human health, either U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for public water supplies or USGS Health-Based Screening Levels (HBSLs).
No individual contaminant was present in concentrations greater than available health benchmarks in more than 8 percent of the sampled wells. Collectively, however, about 23 percent of wells had at least 1 contaminant present at concentrations greater than an MCL or HBSL, based on analysis of samples from 1,389 wells in which most contaminants were measured. Radon, nitrate, several trace elements, fluoride, gross alpha- and beta-particle radioactivity, and fecal indicator bacteria were found most frequently (in one or more percent of wells) at concentrations greater than benchmarks and, thus, are of potential concern for human health. Radon concentrations were greater than the lower of two proposed MCLs (300 picocuries per liter or pCi/L) in about 65 percent of the wells and greater than the higher proposed MCL (4,000 pCi/L) in about 4 percent of wells. Nitrate, arsenic, manganese, strontium, and gross alpha-particle radioactivity (uncorrected) each were present at levels greater than MCLs or HBSLs in samples from about 5 to 7 percent of the wells; boron, fluoride, uranium, and gross beta-particle radioactivity were present at levels greater than MCLs or HBSLs in about 1 to 2 percent of the wells. Total coliform and Escherichia coli bacteria were detected in about 34 and 8 percent, respectively, of sampled wells. Thus, with the exception of nitrate and fecal indicator bacteria, the contaminants that were present in the sampled wells most frequently at concentrations greater than human-health benchmarks were naturally occurring.
Anthropogenic organic compounds were frequently detected at low concentrations, using typical analytical detection limits of 0.001 to 0.1 micrograms per liter, but were seldom present at concentrations greater than MCLs or HBSLs. The most frequently detected compounds included the pesticide atrazine, its degradate deethylatrazine, and the volatile organic compounds chloroform, methyl tert-butyl ether, perchloroethene, and dichlorofluoromethane. Only 7 of 168 organic compounds were present in samples at concentrations greater than MCLs or HBSLs, each in less than 1 percent of wells. These were diazinon, dibromochloroprane, dinoseb, dieldrin, ethylene dibromide, perchloroethene, and trichloroethene. Overall, concentrations of any organic compound greater than MCLs or HBSLs were present in 0.8 percent of wells, and concentrations of any organic compound greater than one-tenth of MCLs or HBSLs were present in about 3 percent of wells.
Several other properties and contaminants were measured at values or concentrations outside of recommended ranges for drinking water for aesthetic quality (for example, taste or odor) or other non-health reasons. About 16 percent of the sampled wells had pH values less than (14.4 percent) or greater than (1.9 percent) the USEPA recommended range of 6.5 to 8.5. Total dissolved solids were greater than th