Health-Based Screening Levels to Evaluate U.S. Geological Survey Ground water Quality Data
Federal and state drinking-water standards and guidelines do not exist for many contaminants analyzed by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment Program, limiting the ability to evaluate the potential human-health relevance of water-quality findings. Health-based screening levels (HBSLs) were developed collaboratively to supplement existing drinking-water standards and guidelines as part of a six-year, multi-agency pilot study. The pilot study focused on ground water samples collected prior to treatment or blending in areas of New Jersey where groundwater is the principal source of drinking water. This article describes how HBSLs were developed and demonstrates the use of HBSLs as a tool for evaluating water-quality data in a human-health context. HBSLs were calculated using standard U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) methodologies and toxicity information. New HBSLs were calculated for 12 of 32 contaminants without existing USEPA drinking-water standards or guidelines, increasing the number of unregulated contaminants (those without maximum contaminant levels (MCLs)) with human-health benchmarks. Concentrations of 70 of the 78 detected contaminants with human-health benchmarks were less than MCLs or HBSLs, including all 12 contaminants with new HBSLs, suggesting that most contaminant concentrations were not of potential human-health concern. HBSLs were applied to a state-scale groundwater data set in this study, but HBSLs also may be applied to regional and national evaluations of water-quality data. HBSLs fulfill a critical need for federal, state, and local agencies, water utilities, and others who seek tools for evaluating the occurrence of contaminants without drinking-water standards or guidelines.
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