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Groundwater Pollution
Click here to view full size picture This sequence of illustrations and explanations is reproduced from "Groundwater Contamination," a bulletin prepared by Dr. Lyle S. Raymond, Jr., and published by New York State Water Resources Institute, Cornell University. This tutorial will help explain the nature of groundwater pollution, including the indicators of contamination, potential sources of contamination, and methods of preventing groundwater pollution.


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SEPTIC SYSTEMS

Contamination Evidence:
- Waste water shows above ground.
- Detection of excessive bacteria, and chemicals in well water tests.

Causes:
- Poor installation and/or maintenance
- Disposal of household chemicals, such as paint thinners, into system.
- Overloading the system with a garbage disposal unit.
- Use of septic tank cleaning additives.
- Too many closely-spaced septic systems in a limited area.

Prevention:
- Proper installation.
- Inspection and cleaning every 2 to 4 years; annually, if garbage disposal used.
- Do not dispose of household chemicals into the system.
- Ban hazardous cleaning additives for septic systems.
- Develop local septic system codes.
- Public sewers when feasible.
- Public information and education.
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SMALL DISPOSAL PITS

Used for dumping or burning wastes by businesses and households...

Contamination Evidence:
- Petroleum odor in well water.
- Other chemical odors.
- Detection of chemical in well water tests.

Causes:
- Improper disposal of chemicals, oil, pesticides, other wastes and used containers.
- Lack of disposal facilities for small amounts of hazardous wastes.

Prevention:
- Public information and education.
- Disposal facilities for small hazardous waste generators.
- Enforcement against improper waste disposal.
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HOUSE AND GARDEN CHEMICALS

Contamination Evidence:
- Detection of chemicals in well water tests.

Causes:
- Improper use of storage.
- Improper disposal in backyard, ditches, low ground, septic systems, and overgrown ditches.

Prevention:
- Proper use.
- Public information and education.
- Provide local disposal facilities for unused chemicals and chemical containers.
- Encourage use of less hazardous products.
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STREAM INFILTRATION

Contamination Evidence:
- Odors in well water.
- Other changes in well water quality.
- Detection of excessive bacteria, or chemicals in well water tests.

Causes:
- Polluted stream or lake water enters well.

Prevention:
- Locate well away from stream or lake.
- Test well water regularly for potential contaminants.
- Change to public water supply if feasible.
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DEICING SALTS

Contamination Evidence:
- Salty taste in well water.
- High chloride level in well water tests.

Causes:
- Runoff from salt storage piles and highways.

Prevention:
- Proper protection of salt storage.
- Minimize use of salt.
- Use alternative deicing materials.
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LANDFILLS

Contamination Evidence:
- Observed leachate runoff.
- Seepage into nearby surface water.
- High levels of bacteria, organic chemicals, metals, nitrates in well water tests.

Causes:
- Lack of control over leachate.
- Permeable soil.
- Leaky landfill cover.
- No liner or liner failure.
- Poor Management.
- Lack of control over hazardous wastes disposal.

Prevention:
- Proper design, maintenance, and operation.
- Avoid sensitive groundwater areas.
- Regular inspection and groundwater monitoring.
- Ban hazardous wastes from landfill unless designed for this purpose.
- Reduce waste by recycling.
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STORAGE LAGOONS

Used by industries, farms, municipalities, mining operations, oil and gas producers...

Contamination Evidence:
- Spills.
- Changes in color, taste, odor or well water.
- Unhealthy or dead vegetation near lagoon.
- Greener and more vigorous plant growth near lagoon.
- Detection of excessive bacteria or chemicals in well water tests.

Causes:
- Poor installation and maintenance.
- Overflows.
- Seepage.
- Liner failure.
- Structural collapse.
- Location in sensitive groundwater area.

Prevention:
- Proper installation and maintenance.
- Locate away from sensitive groundwater areas.
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UNDERGROUND STORAGE TANKS

Contamination Evidence:
- Petroleum odor in wells or basements.
- Tank inventory losses.
- Spills.
- Detection of leaks.

Causes:
- Corroded tanks.
- Poor installation and/or maintenance.
- No testing for tank leaks.
- Poor inventory control.
- No leak backup containment.
- Deterioration of abandoned tanks.

Prevention:
- Proper installation, maintenance, leak testing and inventory control.
- Permit compliance.
- Leak backup containment.
- Removal of abandoned tanks or filling with inert material.
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FERTILIZERS

Contamination Evidence:
- High nitrate level in well water tests.

Causes:
- Over fertilization.
- Ill-timed application.

Prevention:
- Careful adjustment of fertilizer application to plant needs and timing for maximum growth benefit.
- Storage of animal manure to facilitate land spreading at appropriate times.
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LAND APPLICATION OF SLUDGES AND WASTE WATER

Contamination Evidence:
- High bacteria, nitrate levels in well water tests.

Causes:
- Improper application methods.
- Inappropriate soils for application.

Prevention:
- Compliance with permit requirements.
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PESTICIDES

Contamination Evidence:
- Detection of pesticides in well water tests.
- Ill effects on animals drinking from nearby wells, springs or surface water.
- Ill effects on plants watered with nearby well water.
- Ill effects on aquatic life.

Causes:
- Excessive or ill-timed application.
- Improper storage.
- Leaching through soil.
- Improper disposal of excess pesticides and rinse water.

Prevention:
- Follow label instructions.
- Compliance with pesticide certification requirements.
- Reduce pesticide use in recharge areas for water wells.
- Encourage alternative pest control methods.
- Public information and education.
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HAZARDOUS MATERIALS

Contamination Evidence
- Spills.
- Detection of chemical solvents, metals, nitrates, or other chemicals in well water tests.

Causes:
- Improper storage, handling, use, and disposal.
- Spills.
- Leaks.

Prevention:
- Proper storage, handling, use, and disposal.
- Spill prevention and containment measures.
- Compliance with laws and regulations.
- Zoning to locate heavy users of hazardous materials away from sensitive groundwater areas.
- Reduction in use of hazardous materials.
- Public information and education.
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TRANSPORT AND TRANSFER SPILLS

Contamination Evidence:
- Spills.

Causes:
- Accidents.
- Inadequate maintenance.
- Lack of proper training.
- Inadequate provisions for spill containment.

Prevention:
- Proper design, installation, and maintenance of transfer facilities.
- Adequate spill containment and cleanup procedures.
- Compliance with permit requirements.
- Training programs.
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PIPELINES

Contamination Evidence:
- Odors in basement or well water.
- Pipeline flow losses.
- Detection of pipeline leaks through inspections.
- Detection of excessive bacteria, or chemicals in well water tests.

Causes:
- Corrosion.
- Defective welds.
- Vibrations from heavy vehicles.
- Displacement by tree roots.
- Poor installation.
- Poor maintenance and inspection.

Prevention:
- Proper installation.
- Regular inspection and maintenance.
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WELLS

Wells are potential pathways for contaminants to enter groundwater...

Contamination Evidence:
- Detection of high bacteria levels in well water tests.
- Well water turbidity.
- Detection of other contaminants in well water tests.

Causes:
- No well casing or leaky casing.
- Well cover not watertight.
- Open abandoned wells.
- Groundwater movement from
contaminated to uncontaminated wells.

Prevention:
- Watertight well cover.
- Tight well casing.
- Tight plumbing connections.
- Identify and seal abandoned wells.
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INACTIVE MINING SITES

Contamination Evidence:
- (Potential) Dumping of wastes in inactive mining pits.

Causes:
- Rapid infiltration of contaminants due to loss of topsoil filtering capacity.

Prevention:
- Close unused mining pits by restoring topsoil cover.
- Vigilance against waste dumping in inactive mining pits.
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ANIMAL LOTS

Contamination Evidence:
- High bacteria or nitrate levels in well water tests.

Causes:
- High animal density.
- Shallow depth to water table.
- Poor lot drainage.
- Failure to regularly clean lot.

Prevention:
- Proper siting and design of animal lots.
- Control of animal density.
- Regular cleaning of lot.
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URBAN RUNOFF

Contamination Evidence:
- Detection of chemicals, metals, nitrates, petroleum, or other chemicals in surface water or well water tests.

Causes:
- Spills.
- Random waste disposal.
- Abandoned commercial/industrial sites.
- Motor vehicle emissions.
- Fires.

Prevention:
- Public information and education.
- Street sweeping.
- Anti-dumping codes.
- Vegetated collection and infiltration basins for street and parking lot runoff.
- Clean up abandoned commercial and industrial sites.
- Proper cleanup of fires sites.
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CONSTRUCTION EXCAVATION

Contamination Evidence:
- Spills.
- Changes in color, taste, odor, or turbidity of water in nearby wells.

Causes:
- Fuel and chemical spills.
- Road dust-control chemical runoff.
- Excessive and/or improper use of chemicals.

Prevention:
- Spill containment and cleanup procedures.
- Follow recommended practices for safe use of fuels and other hazardous substances.

CEMETERIES AND EXCAVATION

Contamination Evidence:
- Detection of high bacteria levels in nearby water well tests.

Causes:
- High water table.

Prevention:
- Avoid high water tables for burial sites.
- Use watertight caskets in cemeteries with high water tables.

NATURAL SUBSTANCES

Contamination Evidence:
- Bad taste or odor in well water.
- Stains on water fixtures.
- Detection of unacceptable levels of substances in well water tests.

Causes:
- Natural soil or rock conditions.

Prevention:
- Avoid areas where natural groundwater problems exist, if feasible.
- Use water treatment devices.
- Change to public water supply, if feasible.

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