Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) In Drinking Water


Hydroviv's Science Team

Most people are aware of Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) because they are frequently discussed when selecting paint for their home, but many people don't realize that they can contaminate drinking water supplies. This article provides a broad overview of VOCs as it pertains to water, and also gives practical advice on how to protect against them if a water supply becomes contaminated.

What Are Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs)?

By definition, VOCs are a class of chemicals that vaporize easily at normal air temperatures. VOCs are commonly found in household and industrial products including gasoline, solvents, cleaners and degreasers, paints, inks and dyes, and pesticides. For example, gasoline is a mixture of VOCs including benzene, toluene, and other hydrocarbons, which gives gasoline it’s familiar odor.

Can VOCs Contaminate Drinking Water?

Absolutely. In fact, the US Geological Survey (USGS) found in a recent study that VOCs are present in one-fifth of the nation's water supplies. For example, benzene, (a constituent of gasoline) commonly enters groundwater when it spills or leaks out of underground fuel tanks. Other examples of commonly detected VOCs in drinking water include dichloromethane (methylene chloride), an industrial solvent; trichloroethylene, used in septic system cleaners; and tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), used in the dry-cleaning industry.

How Are VOCs In Drinking Water Regulated By EPA?

Because It would be impractical and costly for municipalities to test for every potential chemical that can be categorized as a VOC, EPA regulates a subset of chemicals that commonly contaminate water supplies. For example, benzene, one rather common constituent, is regulated with a maximum contaminant level set at 0.005 milligrams per liter (parts per million) and a goal of zero in drinking water. Water analysis can be requested if there is reason to suspect the presence of a specific VOC.

Private wells are not covered by EPA's regulations and testing is typically optional. While VOCs can be detected by odor at high concentrations, laboratory analysis is the only way to measure VOCs in drinking water at the regulatory limits. We highly recommend that all people who get water from private wells get their water tested by an accredited laboratory.

How To Remove VOCs From Drinking Water

High quality water filters are the only effective way to remove Volatile Organic Compounds in water. These water filter companies (including Hydroviv) test their filters against chemicals that are selected to represent a wide range of VOCs that commonly contaminate water supplies. The NSF Standard 53 protocol for VOC reduction requires manufacturers to test against the chemicals listed in the table below:

alachlor atrazine benzene carbofuran
carbon tetrachloride chlorobenzene chloropicrin dibromochloropropane
o-dichlorobenzene p-dichlorobenzene 1,2-dichloroethane 1,1-dichloro-ethylene
cis-1,2-dichloroethylene trans-1,2-dichloroethylene 1,2-dichloro-propane cis-1,3-dichloropropylene
dinoseb endrin ethylbenzene ethylene dibromide
haloacetonitriles haloketones heptachlor epoxide hexachlorobutadiene
hexachlorocyclo-pentadiene lindane methoxychlor pentachlorophenol
simazine 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane tetrachloro-ethylene toluene
2,4,5-TP tribromo-acetic acid 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene 1,1,1-trichloroethane
1,1,2-trichloroethane trichloroethylene (TCE) trihalomethanes (THMs) xylenes

Table 1: List of chemicals that are part of the NSF 53 Standard Test For VOC Reduction

As always, we encourage you to reach out to our “Help No Matter What” technical support through live chat or email (support@hydroviv.com). Our team will provide science-backed advice on water quality and water filtration, even if you have no intention of buying a Hydroviv water filter. 

Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy
5 Things to Know About Chromium 6 In Drinking Water
Why You Should Throw Out Your TDS Meter
Lead and Chromium 6 problems In Chicago's Drinking Water
Previous Post Next Post