Assessment of ethylene dibromide, dibromochloropropane, other volatile organic compounds, radium isotopes, radon, and inorganic compounds in groundwater and spring water from the Crouch Branch and McQueen Branch aquifers near McBee, South Carolina, 2010-2012

Scientific Investigations Report 2014-5114
Prepared in cooperation with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
By:  and 



Public-supply wells near the rural town of McBee, in southwestern Chesterfield County, South Carolina, have provided potable water to more than 35,000 residents throughout Chesterfield County since the early 1990s. Groundwater samples collected between 2002 and 2008 in the McBee area by South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) officials indicated that groundwater from two public-supply wells was characterized by the anthropogenic compounds ethylene dibromide (EDB) and dibromochloropropane (DBCP) at concentrations that exceeded their respective maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR). Groundwater samples from all public-supply wells in the McBee area were characterized by the naturally occurring isotopes of radium-226 and radium-228 at concentrations that approached, and in one well exceeded, the MCL for the combined isotopes. The local water utility installed granulated activated carbon filtration units at the two EDB- and DBCP-contaminated wells and has, since 2011, shut down these two wells. Groundwater pumped by the remaining public-supply wells is currently (2014) centrally treated at a water-filtration plant.


To assess the occurrence, distribution, and potential sources of the anthropogenic and naturally occurring compounds detected in groundwater in the McBee area, samples of groundwater and spring water were collected from public-supply, domestic-supply, agricultural-supply, and monitoring wells and springs, respectively, between 2010 and 2012 by the U.S. Geological Survey. The water samples were analyzed for concentrations of EDB, DBCP, other volatile organic compounds (VOCs), radium-226 and radium-228, radon, and inorganic compounds. All wells sampled were screened in the shallow Crouch Branch aquifer, the deeper McQueen Branch aquifer, or, for most public-supply wells, both aquifers. In areas where no wells existed or wells could not be installed, passive samplers that adsorb EDB, DBCP, and various VOCs, were installed in the shallow subsurface. A representative groundwater flow pathway to each public supply well and selected other wells was determined by using a calibrated three-dimensional groundwater-flow model of the Atlantic Coastal Plain in Chesterfield County and particle-tracking analysis. The aerial extent of the groundwater flow pathway to public-supply wells was mapped by using chlorofluorocarbon-concentration based, apparent-age dates of the groundwater.


The water-quality data collected between 2010 and 2012, in conjunction with groundwater flow pathways and historical aerial photographs of land uses near McBee, indicate an area where EDB-, DBCP-, 1,2-dichloropropane-, 1,3-dichloropropane-, and carbon disulfide-contaminated groundwater exists in the Crouch Branch aquifer in the Cedar Creek Basin and north of McBee and is most likely related to the past use of these compounds between the early 1900s and the 1980s as soil fumigants in predominately agricultural areas north of McBee. The highest EDB concentration detected (18.6 micrograms per liter) during the 3-year study was in a groundwater sample from an agricultural-supply well located north of McBee. Other VOCs, such as dichloromethane and 1,1,2-trichloroethane, also were detected in groundwater samples from this EDB-contaminated agricultural-supply well but are from unknown source(s). The fact that the agricultural area north of McBee is located in a recharge area for the Crouch Branch aquifer most likely facilitated the groundwater contamination in this area. DBCP-contaminated groundwater detected in three public-supply wells south of McBee in the deeper McQueen Branch aquifer appears to be related to past soil fumigation practices that used DBCP in agricultural areas located south of McBee. One of the three DBCP-contaminated public-supply wells also contained EDB, most likely present in groundwater due to the release of leaded gasolines that contained EDB as a fuel additive between the 1940s and 1970s. A gasoline-source of EDB, rather than a soil-fumigation source, is supported by the co-detection in groundwater from the well of 1,2-dichloroethane, a lead scavenger compound also added to leaded gasoline. Groundwater pumped from two public-supply wells located within and to the east of the McBee town limits and one domestic-supply well east of McBee was characterized by the detection of 1,1-dichloroethane, trichloroethylene, 1,1-dichloroethylene, and perchloroethylene. Groundwater flow pathways determined for these wells indicate that the potential source(s) of these compounds detected in one public-supply well and the domestic-supply well may be located within the McBee town limits, and that the potential source(s) of these compounds detected in the public-supply well to the east of McBee may be located in an area north of McBee formerly used for agriculture, but used for industry since at least the 1970s. Radium isotopes (defined in this study as the sum of radium-226 and radium-228 concentrations) and radon were detected in all wells sampled in the McBee area between 2010 and 2012. Wells characterized by radium isotope concentrations in groundwater that exceeded the MCL of 5.0 picocuries per liter were also characterized by specific conductance values greater than 30 microsiemens per centimeter and clustered north of McBee in a predominately agricultural area, and in agricultural and urban areas located within and east of McBee. The elevated specific conductance values measured in groundwater from these wells most likely are due to recharge by water mineralized by fertilizer application in agricultural areas, or due to the recharge by water mineralized by septic-tank drain-field effluent near urban areas. Radon was detected in groundwater from all wells sampled, and radon concentrations in groundwater from three monitoring wells exceeded the proposed MCL of 300 picocuries per liter. Concentrations of uranium in groundwater in the McBee area increased with increased groundwater-sample depth, most likely due to the proximity of the sample-collection location to basement rock that contains uranium-bearing minerals.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Assessment of ethylene dibromide, dibromochloropropane, other volatile organic compounds, radium isotopes, radon, and inorganic compounds in groundwater and spring water from the Crouch Branch and McQueen Branch aquifers near McBee, South Carolina, 2010-2012
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2014-5114
DOI 10.3133/sir20145114
Edition Version 1: Originally posted August 20, 2014; Version 1.1: April 30, 2015
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) South Atlantic Water Science Center
Description xi, 94 p.
Time Range Start 2010-01-01
Time Range End 2012-12-31
Country United States
State South Carolina
City Mcbee
Other Geospatial Crouch Branch Aquifer, Mcqueen Branch Aquifer
Datum North American Datum of 1983
Scale 100000
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N