The Ohio River is a source of drinking water for more than 3 million people. Thus, it is important to monitor the water quality of this river to determine if contaminants are present, their concentrations, and if water quality is changing with time. This report presents an analysis of the occurrence, distribution, and trends of 21 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) along the main stem of the Ohio River and its major tributaries from 1987 through 1996. The data were collected by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission's Organics Detection System, which monitors daily for VOCs at 15 stations. Various statistical methods were applied to basinwide data from all monitoring stations and to data from individual monitoring stations. For the basinwide data, one or more VOCs were detected in 45 percent of the 44,837 river-water samples. Trichloromethane, detected in 26 percent of the samples, was the most frequently detected VOC followed by benzene (11 percent), methylbenzene (6.4 percent), and the other 18 VOCs, which were detected in less than 4 percent of the samples. In samples from 8 of the 15 monitoring stations, trichloromethane was also the most frequently detected VOC. These stations were generally near large cities along the Ohio River. The median trichloromethane concentration was 0.3 microgram per liter (μg/L), and concentrations ranged from less than 0.1 to 125.3 μg/L. Most of the VOCs had median detected concentrations that ranged from 0.1 to 0.4 μg/L for the basinwide data and for samples from individual stations. Samples from stations in the upstream part of the basin and from the Kanawha River had the highest median concentrations. Ninety-nine percent of the detected VOC concentrations were within U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water regulations. Of the 268 exceedances of drinking-water regulations, 188 were due to the detection of 1,2-dichloroethane prior to 1993 in samples from the monitoring station near Paducah, Ky. Time trend analyses indicated that most VOCs had no trend in samples at most monitoring stations because they were detected infrequently. At one or more stations, 14 VOCs had decreasing trends in monthly mean concentrations that ranged from -0.01 to -0.42 μ/L per year. Nine VOCs had significant decreasing trends in percentage detection that ranged from -1.08 to -12.90 percent per year. These trends suggest that source-control efforts are working and that water quality is improving.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Occurrence, distribution, and trends of volatile organic compounds in the Ohio River and its major tributaries, 1987-96