Occurrence, concentrations, and risks of pharmaceutical compounds in private wells in central Pennsylvania

Faith A. Kibuye, Heather E. Gall, Kyle R. Elkin, Bryan Swistock, Tamie L. Veith, John E. Watson, Herschel A. Elliott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Over-the-counter and prescription medications are routinely present at detectable levels in surface and groundwater bodies. The presence of these emerging contaminants has raised both environmental and public health concerns, particularly when the water is used for drinking either directly or with additional treatment. However, the frequency of occurrence, range of concentrations, and potential human health risks are not well understood, especially for groundwater supplies. Private wells are often not tested for contaminants regulated by drinking water standards and are even less frequently tested for emerging contaminants. By partnering with the Pennsylvania Master Well OwnerNetwork,watersampleswerecollectedfrom26households with private wells in the West Branch of the Susquehanna River basin in central Pennsylvania in winter 2017. All samples were analyzed for six pharmaceuticals (acetaminophen, ampicillin, naproxen, ofloxacin, sulfamethoxazole, and trimethoprim) and one over-the-counter stimulant (caffeine). At least one compound was detected at each site. Ofloxacin and naproxen were the most and least frequently detected compounds, respectively. Concentrations from the groundwater wells were higher than those of nearby surface water samples. However, risk calculations revealed that none of the concentrations measured in groundwater samples posed significant human health risk. A simple, physicochemical-based modeling approach was used to predict pharmaceutical transport from septic absorption field to groundwater and further elucidate variations in detection frequencies. Findings indicate that although septic tanks may act as contaminant sources for groundwater wells, the human health impacts from trace-level pharmaceuticals that may be present are likely minimal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1057-1066
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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