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Aquifer—A water-bearing layer of soil, sand, gravel, or rock that will yield usable quantities of water to a well.

Background concentration— A concentration of a substance in a particular environment that is indicative of minimal influence by human (anthropogenic) sources.

Bed sediment— The material that temporarily is stationary in the bottom of a stream or other watercourse.
DDT—Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane. An organochlorine insecticide no longer registered for use in the United States.

Ground water—In general, any water that exists beneath the land surface, but more commonly applied to water in fully saturated soils and geologic formations.

Herbicide—A chemical or other agent applied for the purpose of killing undesirable plants. See also Pesticide.

Human health advisory—Guidance provided by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, State agencies, or scientific organizations, in the absence of regulatory limits, to describe acceptable contaminant levels in drinking water or edible fish.

Insecticide—A substance or mixture of substances intended to destroy or repel insects. See also Pesticides.

Maximum contaminant level (MCL)—Maximum permissible level of a contaminant in water that is delivered to any user of a public water system. MCLs are enforceable standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Method detection limit—The minimum concentration of a substance that can be accurately identified and measured with present laboratory technologies.

Micrograms per liter (µg/L)—A unit expressing the concentration of constituents in solution as weight (micrograms) of solute per unit volume (liter) of water; equivalent to one part per billion in most stream water and ground water. One thousand micrograms per liter equals 1 milligram per liter.

Milligrams per liter (mg/L)—A unit expressing the concentration of chemical constituents in solution as weight (milligrams) of solute per unit volume (liter) of water; equivalent to one part per million in most stream water and ground water. One thousand micorgrams per liter equals 1 mg/L.

Organochlorine compound—Synthetic organic compounds containing chlorine. As generally used, term refers to compounds containing mostly or exclusively carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine. Examples include organochlorine insecticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and some solvents containing chlorine.

Pesticide—A chemical applied to crops, rights of way, lawns, or residences to control weeds, insects, fungi, nematodes, rodents, or other “pests.”

pH—The logarithm of the reciprocal of the hydrogen ion concentration (activity) of a solution; a measure of the acidity (pH less than 7) or alkalinity (pH greater than 7) of a solution; a pH of 7 is neutral.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—A mixture of chlorinated derivatives of biphenyl, marketed under the trade name Aroclor with a number designating the chlorine content (such as Aroclor 1260). PCBs were used in transformers and capacitors for insulating purposes and in gas pipeline systems as a lubricant. Further sale for new use was banned by law in 1979.

Secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL)—The maximum contamination level in public water systems that, in the judgment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), is required to protect the public welfare. SMCLs are secondary (nonenforceable) drinking water regulations established by the USEPA for contaminants that may adversely affect the odor or appearance of such water.

Semivolatile organic compound (SVOC)—Operationally defined as a group of synthetic organic compounds that are solvent-extractable and can be determined by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. SVOCs include phenols, phthalates, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Suspended sediment—Particles of rock, sand, soil, and organic detritus carried in suspension in the water column, in contrast to sediment that moves on or near the streambed or rests on the bottom of the stream.

Trace element—An element found in only minor amounts (concentrations less than 1.0 milligram per liter) in water or sediment; includes arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, and zinc.

Upgradient—Of or pertaining to the place(s) from which ground water originated or traveled through before reaching a given point in an aquifer.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—Organic chemicals that have a high vapor pressure relative to their water solubility. VOCs include components of gasoline, fuel oils, and lubricants, as well as organic solvents, fumigants, some inert ingredients in pesticides, and some byproducts of chlorine disinfection.

Water-quality guidelines—Specific levels of water quality which, if reached, may adversely affect human health or aquatic life. These are nonenforceable guidelines issued by a governmental agency or other institution.

Water-quality standards—State-adopted and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved ambient standards for water bodies. Standards include the use of the water body and the water-quality criteria that must be met to protect the designated use or uses.

Yield—The mass of material or constituent transported by a river in a specified period of time divided by the drainage area of the river basin.

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U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1202

Suggested citation:

Anderson, R.M., Beer, K.M., Buckwalter, T.F., Clark, M.E., McAuley, S.D., Sams, J.I. III, and Williams, D.R., 2000, Water Quality in the Allegheny and Monongahela River Basins Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, and Maryland, 1996-98: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1202, 32 p., on-line at

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