Water quality and pollution by hazardous substances
Numerous hazardous pollutants are found in groundwater, including pesticides, metals and substances leaching from contaminated sites.
Metals in the groundwater. Depending on the soil type, inorganic trace elements, including metals, occur in groundwater in higher or lower concentrations. Metals occur naturally in groundwater, but lowering of the groundwater table and oxidation of metallic minerals can raise the concentration. High concentrations of metalloids, such as arsenic in the groundwater and drinking water, can be extremely harmful.
Organic micropollutants that have been used in large amounts, or have been dispersed in the environment may also affect groundwater quality, in particular aromatic hydrocarbons and chlorinated solvents:
- The aromatic hydrocarbons typically derive from landfills, oil installations, petrol installations, asphalt factories, tar enterprises and gasworks.
- The chlorinated solvents mainly derive from the metals industry and the paints and dyes industry, landfills, petrol installations and dry-cleaning enterprises.
Salt (sodium chloride) is found in deep groundwater and in groundwater located near the coast. The presence of salt can restrict abstraction of water for drinking water. If water abstraction is excessive, intruding salt water can contaminate the groundwater. In addition, salting of roads during the winter can result in locally increased groundwater salt concentrations. Sulphate mainly occurs in areas where the ground contains sulphide minerals, and where lowering of the groundwater table promotes oxidation. Fluoride minerals are mainly found in limestone aquifers, where they can be released into the groundwater as fluoride.
Publications and links
WHO and CEC 2002: Eutrophication and health
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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