Contaminants Resulting from Agriculture or Industry - Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs)
It had been previously assumed by many water treatment officials
that groundwater was fairly potable.
In fact, untreated groundwater was often used as an uncontaminated
reference against which the contamination of surface drinking
water could be assessed (Rail, 2000). The discovery of high
concentrations of synthetic chemicals in groundwater-derived
drinking water has led to reassessments of the quality of groundwater.
These volatile organic chemicals (VOCs)
represent a significant threat to the health of both humans
and animals and are widely present in water sources in the United
States. Since 1977, when VOCs first began to be identified in
public drinking water, at least 33 toxic organic chemicals have
been discovered in the drinking water in 34 states (Rail, 2000).
VOCs are extremely persistent in groundwater, due to their low reactivity, and these chemicals may be transported for long distances. They originate from many areas of human activity, both domestic and industrial, including septic system cleaning, pest and weed control, dry cleaning, and fumigation. Septic system cleaning is one of the most common sources of VOCs in drinking water, as approximately 20 million single housing units in the United States have on-site liquid waste disposal systems.
Many of the VOCs present in drinking water are known carcinogens. Ingestion of VOCs can also cause damage to the central nervous system, the kidneys, or the liver. If inhaled, VOCs can damage the tissue of the lungs, and they may also cause irritation if they come into contact with the skin. VOCs vaporize at a much faster rate than water, causing serious health threats when contaminated water is used for showering or cooking.
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