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Source Water Pollution: Why is Organic Content Monitoring Important?

Team TFS
Team TFS
contaminants in drinking waterWhile our field service engineers are hard at work installing GC-MS systems at local municipalities across the U.S. for monitoring contaminants in drinking water, I’ve been busy keeping my eye on current environmental issues and events. My interest was piqued after I read a recently published article on efforts to roll back legislation aimed at preventing environmental contamination in a drinking source water in .... I began researching the event that inspired the original regulations and it led me to another article titled, Uncertainty Upstream, concerning multiple toxic chemical spills in the Elk River in the state of West Virginia (U.S.) in 2014. The article, posted by a water quality specialist directly involved in the event fallout, outlines the communities involvement with post-spill sampling and the fantastic efforts by local and government agencies to collect independent samples for evaluation. The contamination site was located a mile and a half upstream from a West Virginia American Water drinking water intake. Due to the contamination, local residents were unable to use their tap water for weeks.

My continued research efforts led me to a report produced by an independent scientific review team organized by the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health (WVBPH) titled, WV TAP FINAL REPORT. In the report, samples of tap water from residences that were supplied drinking water downstream of the spill were evaluated for the presence of the spill contaminants. I was excited to find that the GC-MS evaluation of the organic contaminants in the spill samples was completed by completed by some of our customer labs. One specific customer heavily involved in the analysis was Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO). Shout Out!

In particular, GC-MS analysis was used to detect MCHM, propylene glycol phenyl ether (PPH), dipropylene glycol phenyl ether (DiPPH), and a variety of possible breakdown compounds. Tap water sample analysis found no breakdown products; however, concentrations of MCHM were consistently detected in residences tap water a full month after the spill. Source water testing following the spill detected MCHM as far south as 300 miles away. Although the full impact of the contamination event is unknown, groups continue to monitor the Elk River for long-term exposure effects.

Now more than ever it seems that our natural resources are at risk from exposure to harmful substances. Increases in industrial activity and need for fossil fuel-derived energy coupled with a hands-off approach from the legislature (when it comes to issues that could have potentially negative effects on our economy) are creating the perfect storm for environmental contamination. Although efforts of the state legislature aim to roll back regulation that could prevent future spills, it is refreshing to see dedicated community members doing their part inform the public and take actions to protect our natural resources. Hat’s off to the community.


Additional Resources

You might be interested in downloading these application notes:

You can also find out more about organic contaminant monitoring by visiting our Drinking Water Community page.


If organic content monitoring is of interest to your laboratory, we would like to hear about your thoughts and experiences.