VOCs are a group of chemicals that are found in drinking water in increasing numbers and they have been linked to a number of negative health effects. In this article, we will explain what VOCs are, how they get into our water, and what you can do to get rid of them.

What are VOCs?

VOCs are compounds that contain carbon with properties that ease their evaporation and thus their movement from air to surface water to soil and groundwater. These chemical compounds are used in a wide variety of applications, including agriculture, industry, transport, and many household products.

Some of the most common forms of VOCs that we encounter every day, may include cleaners, paints, varnishes, gasoline, and certain plastics. Sadly, VOCs are very hard to remove from the water without specific filtration systems that are not used in public water treatment plants.

How Do VOCs Get in Drinking Water?

VOCs can dissolve easily and they can leach into the ground and percolate through various layers of soil and rock until they reach groundwater suppliers. This is why VOC contamination is higher in private wells that are located near landfills, gas stations, railroad tracks, and industrial areas. Another way that VOCs can enter water is via accidental spills, improper disposal, and chemical leaks at industrial facilities.

3 Common VOC Groups

The three most common VOC groups detected in water are:

1.   Trihalomethanes (THMs)

These are water disinfection byproducts that come from the recycling of chlorinated water to an underground aquifer.

2.   Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE)

This is a gasoline additive that may contaminate groundwater from underground fuel storage tank leaks.

3.   Perchloroethylene (PCE)

This is also known as tetrachloroethylene, it’s a solvent used in a wide variety of commonly used products including paint, printer ink, household cleaners, shoe polish, spot removers, dry-cleaning products, adhesives, and more.

How Can I Detect VOCs?

In water, VOCs tend to produce a gasoline-like chemical odor that some people may characterize as sweet. If the concentrations are high, there may be a visible oily sheen on the surface of poured water in a vessel. But, some THMs are harder to detect and they may have no strange taste, odor, or appearance. The only reliable way to check for VOCs in water is to carry out regular water testing.

How Can I Remove VOCs?

Some VOCs can be removed with a granular activated carbon (GAC) water filter. Some point of entry (POE) or point of use (POU) systems are reliable if they have the NSF/ANSI Standard 53 Certification.

The best way to remove VOCs from your drinking water is a reverse osmosis (RO) filtration system with an NSF/ANSI Standard 58 Certification. Some people try to remove VOCs by boiling their water, but this is ineffective and inefficient for daily use. Boiled water can release VOCs into the air which can concentrate any heavy metals that are present and create a harmful gas.

If you want to remove VOCs from your drinking water, contact your local water treatment specialist.

By EcoWater Systems.
EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is the largest water treatment company in the state and is a member of Water Quality Association.