Water study yields a few surprises for New England

evels in sediments were in urban settings, the fish surveyed from urban waters contained less mercury. Surprisingly, fish found in streams draining more forested and wetland-rich watersheds in the outlying suburban areas had the highest levels of mercury accumulated in their bodies. Because recreational fisherman tend to fish in these more rural streams, it is important for people to become aware of any fish consumption advisories prior to eating fish from these streams.

Major Findings in Ground Water

  • In addition to natural contaminants in ground water, many manmade contaminants, such as the gasoline additive MTBE, routinely were found in ground waters used for drinking.
  • In the area of Eastern New England studied, nearly one in five household wells drilled into bedrock contained arsenic above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standard of 10 micrograms per liter for public drinking water. Increasing numbers of bedrock wells are being drilled to supply household and public water supplies.
  • Ground waters of the area also contain high amounts of radon. All but one of the nearly 120 wells sampled in the area had radon levels that exceeded the proposed USEPA drinking-water standard of 300 picocuries per liter.
  • The gasoline additive MTBE and chloroform, a chemical that forms from the chlorination of drinking water, were found in most well water samples. These chemicals were much more common in wells in eastern New England than in wells sampled in other parts of the country. This is likely due to the extensive use of MTBE in gasoline and chlorination of city water supplies in this region.

    "These results indicate the need for regular testing of ground water supplies, especially those from private water wells used by individual homes, since these contaminants were often found," said Robinson.


  • Contact: Debra Foster
    United States Geological Survey

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