Plume and Doom: The impact od household chemical disposal on groundwater

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Many believe that groundwater contamination is caused solely by commercial and industrial activity. However, this belief overlooks the fact that the activities of the average homeowner can also have a detrimental impact on our water supply. When improperly disposed of, gasoline, motor oil, paint, solvents, pesticides, cleaners, and other common household solvents can result in pollution of the drinking water supply. Household chemicals, if dumped on the ground, will percolate into the soil and ultimately reach the groundwater table. Once in contact with groundwater, the contamination will spread out and result in a pollution plume. The flow of natural groundwater will cause the plume to travel and, because of the slow movement of groundwater, the impact of the pollution is not felt in deep water supply wells until years later. Homeowners must understand that proper disposal of household chemicals is vital to groundwater protection. Septic tanks and municipal wastewater treatment systems are not designed to treat and neutralize the wide variety of commonly used household chemicals.

Many chemicals disposed of through a septic system will pass untreated directly into the underlying soil and into the groundwater system. This pollution is also detrimental to wastewater treatment plant microbes, which are vital to normal wastewater treatment, and adversely impacts performance of the system. Community hazardous waste collection programs, like S.T.O.P. (Stop Throwing Out Pollutants), are designed to provide homeowners with a safe, environmentally sound method of disposing of many hazardous chemicals found in the average home. The proper disposal of household chemicals by the average homeowner will make a significant contribution to the protection of our precious groundwater supply. To best protect against groundwater contamination, homeowners should ensure the proper storage, selection and use of household and garden products. When using chemicals, make sure they are kept in well-ventilated, cool and dry locations. If there is any spill, quickly contain, clean and neutralize it. When applying any amount of pesticides and fertilizers, the homeowner should make sure that they are doing so in accordance with the manufacturer’s label instructions.

The over-application of lawn chemicals in high concentrations can easily leach into the groundwater. The use of natural, organic products should always be considered as viable choices for lawn and garden maintenance. Organic fertilizers, like cotton seed meal, bone meal and manure, are excellent because they break down slowly and release small quantities of nitrates. Consumers should also choose biodegradable insecticides and fungicides because they break down into harmless substances in a short amount of time. Using more chemicals than necessary will cause more harm to the environment than good. Always use common sense and become familiar with the chemical product to determine the impact of use. Ask the question, “Is the product suitable for the application?” and always follow the label directions for use and disposal. Homeowners should always look for alternative, non-hazardous products for performing the job. Paul Granger, P.E., is Vice President of H2M Water. He can be reached at mail

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