Volatile Organic Compounds in Drinking Water

The term Volatile Organic Compound refers to a variety of chemical compounds that contain carbon and evaporate at relatively low temperatures.

Drinking water that contains VOCs can increase your risk for a variety of health problems. Some VOCs have been proven to cause cancer after prolonged exposure, while others are considered possible cancer risks. VOCs can also cause other health problems.

Sources

VOCs do not occur naturally in drinking water.

Hundreds of VOCs have been produced for use in a variety of products, including gasoline, dry cleaning solvents, and degreasing agents. When these products are improperly stored or disposed of, or when a spill occurs, VOCs can contaminate ground water and drinking water supplies.

Although many VOCs found in drinking water are due to contamination, others may be formed when drinking water is treated with chlorine. The chlorine reacts with organic materials found in water and forms certain VOCs known as chlorination by-products.

The Water Supply Division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation regulates VOCs in public water systems.

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Treatment

Reducing the amount of chlorine added to your water, or using an activated carbon filter, can sometimes reduce VOCs formed during chlorination.

If the VOCs are not caused by chlorination, it’s important to find the source. Additional testing may be needed to determine the level of contamination.

Following are two ways to remove VOCs from drinking water:

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The First Step

Call the Toxicology and Risk Assessment program of the Vermont Department of Health (863-7220 or 800-439-8550) if Volatile Organic Compounds are found in your drinking water. This program can give you information about possible health risks of specific compounds and how to treat your water.

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