Volatile Organic Compounds


What are Volatile Organic Compounds?
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are carbon-based molecules that readily dissipate or vaporize in air. Among the most common VOCs are those chemicals used as solvents, degreasers, fumigants, gasoline additives, and dry cleaning chemicals. Most of these chemicals are “chlorinated hydrocarbons” and have names such as trichloroethylene (TCE), carbon tetrachloride, and dichlorethane. Another common VOC is benzene, which is found in petroleum and petroleum by-products. Benzene can also be “chlorinated” to form VOCs such as chlorobenzene, dichlorobenzene, and dichlorobenzene. VOCs are very mobile which enables them to percolate through the ground into wells and aquifers. Once in the groundwater, most VOCs do not break down easily and may remain for long periods of time. VOCs enter the groundwater from spills and leaks, improper storage and disposal, and industrial discharges and run-off. VOCs also enter the groundwater from improper disposal of household wastes, particularly used motor oil and cleaning fluids.

How are VOCs tested?
A properly collected and preserved sample must be obtained. The “holding time” (i.e., time which VOCs must be analyzed after sample collection) is 14 days. There are two NJDEP certified test methods for VOCs – one uses Gas Chromatography (GC) while the most sophisticated method uses GC/Mass Spectroscopy (GC/MS). The proper sampling of VOCs is very critical to obtaining quality analytical results.

What are the current Standards?
Currently there are 26 regulated VOCs reported for PWTA analysis. The compounds with the most health risks have the lowest standards. For example, Benzene has a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 1 ppb (ug/L – microgram per liter) while Toluene has a MCL of 1,000 ug/L.

What are the potential Health Effects with ingesting VOCs in water?
The potential health effects are generally cancer causing and affect major organs such as the kidney, liver, circulatory system and nervous system.

Should I continue to use my water if the VOCs are not within the MCLs?
You should not continue to drink the water. You should alert the local health agency and follow their advice.

What steps can I take to reduce VOC levels in my water?
Short Term:
purchase bottled water.
Long Term: 1.) Connect to public water 2.) Well replacement 3.) Water Treatment: Point of Entry Treatment System (POET) or Point of Use (POU) Treatment System with Activated Carbon Filtration or Air Stripping. 4.) Contact you local Health Agency and a Water Treatment Professional.

If you install a water treatment system, be sure to conduct another test after the water has been treated to verify that the system is working effectively.


Where can I go for more information?
Your best help may be your local Health Agency. Also, go to the Helpful Links section of this website.


This information is meant to serve as a basic overview of the material discussed. Always obtain professional advice prior to implementing a plan of action.