What Are Volatile Organic Compounds Or VOCs?

Volatile Organic Compounds are carbon-containing compounds that are found in a large variety of commercial, industrial and residential products including fuel oils, gasoline, solvents, cleaners, paints, inks, dyes, refrigerants and pesticides.

They are considered a primary health contaminant and are considered toxic to humans.

How Do VOCs Get Into Drinking Water?

Most VOCs in water result from human activity. Spills or improper disposal is one source.  By nature, a portion of VOC’s will evaporate, especially in surface water sources. However some absorb into the ground and are carried through the soil by rain or snow melting, eventually reaching the groundwater table. When VOCs move underground to water sources and nearby wells, they can eventually end up in drinking water supplies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Volatile Organic Chemicals are present in one-fifth of the nation’s water supplies.

Does Anything Increase The Chance Of Volatile Organics In My Well?

There are several factors that can contribute to the possibility of VOC’s entering water sources and wells:

  • Distance between the well and a source of contamination is one of the main factors. Many wells contaminated with VOCs are located near industrial or commercial areas, gas stations, landfills or railroad tracks.
  • Amount of VOC’s spilled. Spills can be small and confined and others can involve large quantities of contaminants that are discharged into the ground and water over a long period of time. When a large quantity of chemicals has discharged into the environment, large areas can be affected.
  • Well depth also plays a role. Shallow wells are generally affected more severely than deep wells. Soils above both types of wells can impact the extent of contamination as well, as porous or sandy soil will allow easier pathways for entry then clay does.
  • Time is another consideration. Groundwater tends to move slowly, so a spill can take months or even years to reach nearby wells.

What Are The Health Risks Of VOC Contamination?

VOCs are considered a primary health contaminant.

As known toxins, VOCs health effects can range from mild skin irritation to the risk of cancer, as some are suspected carcinogens. They can be harmful to the kidneys, the liver and the central nervous system.

Blood disorders such as anemia and low white blood cell counts have been linked to benzene, and evidence shows that this VOC can injure a fetus or potentially cause miscarriages.

Can I Treat My Water For VOCs?

If substantial chemical contamination is found, the best solution is to construct a safe, uncontaminated well or connect to a public water system if available.

For lower levels, treating or removing the source is the next option, however not always possible and groundwater treatment can be costly and time consuming.

Water treatment systems are available which can remove or reduce VOCs.

  • Activated carbon filters can remove VOCs if they are properly installed and maintained.
  • Filtration systems may be installed for point-of-use treatment at the faucet or where water enters the home.

It is important to determine exactly which contaminants are present in water before choosing a system.

If you think you have volatile organic compounds in your drinking water, contact one of our specialists to discuss your water testing and treatment options.