• ground water;
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs);
  • private wells;
  • occurrence;
  • drinking water;
  • domestic supply

ABSTRACT: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) collected or compiled data on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in samples of untreated ground water from 1,926 rural private wells during 1986 to 1999. At least one VOC was detected in 12 percent of samples from rural private wells. Individual VOCs were not commonly detected with the seven most frequently detected compounds found in only 1 to 5 percent of samples at or above a concentration of 0.2 microgram per liter (μg/l). An assessment level of 0.2 μg/l was selected so that comparisons of detection frequencies between VOCs could be made. The seven most frequently detected VOCs were: trichloromethane, methyl tert-butyl ether, tetrachloroethene, dichlorodifluoromethane, methylbenzene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, and 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane. Solvents and trihalomethanes were the most frequently detected VOC groups in private wells. The distributions of detections of gasoline oxygenates and fumigants seemed to be related to the use patterns of compounds in these groups. Mixtures were a common mode of occurrence of VOCs with one-quarter of all samples with detections including two or more VOCs. The concentrations of most detected VOCs were relatively small and only 1.4 percent of samples had one or more VOC concentrations that exceeded a federally established drinking water standard or health criterion.