Fact Sheet 2014–3042
Trace metals, such as arsenic, iron, lead, manganese, and uranium, in groundwater used for drinking have long been a concern because of the potential adverse effects on human health and the aesthetic or nuisance problems that some present. Moderate to high concentrations of the trace metal arsenic have been identified in drinking water from groundwater sources in southeastern New Hampshire, a rapidly growing region of the State (Montgomery and others, 2003). During the past decade (2000–10), southeastern New Hampshire, which is composed of Hillsborough, Rockingham, and Strafford Counties, has grown in population by nearly 48,700 (or 6.4 percent) to 819,100. These three counties contain 62 percent of the State’s population but encompass only about 22 percent of the land area (New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, 2011). According to a 2005 water-use study (Hayes and Horn, 2009), about 39 percent of the population in these three counties in southeastern New Hampshire uses private wells as sources of drinking water, and these wells are not required by the State to be routinely tested for trace metals or other contaminants.
Some trace metals have associated human-health benchmarks or nonhealth guidelines that have been established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate public water supplies. The EPA has established a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 10 micrograms per liter (μg/L) for arsenic (As) and a MCL of 30 μg/L for uranium (U) because of associated health risks (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2012). Iron (Fe) and manganese (Mn) are essential for human health, but Mn at high doses may have adverse cognitive effects in children (Bouchard and others, 2011; Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2012); therefore, the EPA has issued a lifetime health advisory (LHA) of 300 μg/L for Mn. Recommended secondary maximum contaminant levels (SMCLs) for Fe (300 μg/L) and Mn (50 μg/L) were established primarily as nonhealth guidelines—based on aesthetic considerations, such as taste or the staining of laundry and plumbing fixtures—because these contaminants, at the SMCLs, are not considered to present risks to human health. Because lead (Pb) contamination of drinking water typically results from corrosion of plumbing materials belonging to water-system customers but still poses a risk to human health, the EPA established an action level (AL) of 15 μg/L for Pb instead of an MCL or SMCL (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2012). The 15-μg/L AL for Pb has been adopted by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services for public water systems, and if exceeded, the public water system must inform their customers and undertake additional actions to control corrosion in the pipes of the distribution system (New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, 2013).
Unlike the quality of drinking water provided by public water suppliers, the quality of drinking water obtained from private wells in New Hampshire is not regulated; consequently, private wells are sampled only when individual well owners voluntarily choose to sample them. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with the EPA New England, conducted an assessment in 2012–13 to provide private well owners and State and Federal health officials with information on the distribution of trace-metal (As, Fe, Pb, Mn, and U) concentrations in groundwater from bedrock aquifers in the three counties of southeastern New Hampshire. This fact sheet analyzes data from water samples collected by a randomly selected group of private well owners from the three-county study area and describes the major findings for trace-metal concentrations.
First posted June 16, 2014
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Flanagan, S.M., Belaval, Marcel, and Ayotte, J.D., 2014, Arsenic, iron, lead, manganese, and uranium concentrations in private bedrock wells in southeastern New Hampshire, 2012–2013: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2014–3042, 6 p., at https://dx.doi.org/10.3133/fs20143042.
ISSN 2327-6916 (print)
ISSN 2327-6932 (online)