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An Analysis of Groundwater Contaminants in New

Jerseys Aquifers
Kayla Johnston
The Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science

Objective: To analyze elevated groundwater contaminant levels around New Jersey in relation
to aquifers and population.

Groundwater is a major source of drinking water to people everywhere
and is obtained via pumping from aquifers. Sole-source aquifers are
responsible for over 50% of an areas drinking water and are
irreplaceable when contaminated. Groundwater is very susceptible to
contamination from a variety of anthropogenic sources including mines,
landfills, and storage tanks. Contaminated water can cause fever-like
symptoms, organ damage, and cancer in people, as well as damage the
environment. This study utilized ArcMap 10.2 and groundwater, aquifer,
population, and mine data to analyze groundwater contamination
hotspots around New Jersey. Cadmium, methyl tertiary-butyl ether (a
volatile organic compound), and gross beta radioactivity over 30 days
were the chosen parameters to work with due to their threat to health
and greatest prevalence. It was found the largest aquifer, the Coastal
Plains aquifer, contained the most elevated values, specifically the
southwest region and eastern central regions of the aquifer. Many of
these contaminated areas are areas of high-population, posing an even
bigger threat. The high amount of mines in some of these areas could
be responsible for contamination, but for areas without a large amount
of mines, it is vital to identify possible contamination sources and rectify
the issue early before the aquifer becomes severely contaminated and
people and the environment begin to experience adverse health effects .

ArcMap 10.2 was the Geographic Information Systems software used

in this analysis
Shapefiles for 2014 average New Jersey groundwater contaminants
were collected from Geographic Information Systems database of the
New Jersey Division of Water Supply and Geoscience of the NJDEP
and made into dot-density maps
The NJDEP samples every 5 years, and takes 30 samples per
parameter on their sampling year and reports the averages
The selected contaminants consisted of cadmium, methyl tertiarybutyl ether, and gross beta radioactivity over 30 days due to having
the greatest presence out of the many other contaminants and their
threat to human health
Polygon shapefiles for New Jerseys sole-source aquifers were drawn
based on the NJDEPs sole-source aquifers map
Chloropleth maps of the 2014 New Jersey population by county were
created from data provided by the United States Census Bureau
The groundwater contaminants layers were paired with the New
Jersey aquifers and population layers to analyze the relationship
between these contaminants and possible threats to human health
A point shapefile featuring registered New Jersey mines was also
collected from the NJDEP database to analyze if these mines act as a
possible source of contamination

Table 1. The amount of

registered mines by county,
corresponding to Figure 7.

Figures 1, 2, and 3. Groundwater monitoring spots and their recorded values represented via dot-density maps were overlayed on the New Jersey solesource aquifers polygon files. Due to the massive size of the Coastal Plains aquifer, a majority of the higher contaminant levels for cadmium, methyl
tertiary0butyl ether, and gross beta radioactivity were found in this aquifer. The Highlands, Ridgewood, and Ramapo aquifers had these least occurrences of
high-contaminant values, though there are less sampling locations there. A majority of the high values seemed to appear in the lower-west pat of New Jersey.

Figure 8. New Jersey counties. (Digital Map

Store, 2015).

Discussion and Conclusion

According to the Figures 1, 2, and 3, the greatest concentrations of
the three groundwater contaminants occurred in the Coastal Plains
aquifer, New Jerseys largest sole-source aquifer. Many of these elevated
values occurred in the southwest portion of New Jersey, although some
also occurred around the eastern, central part of New Jersey near
Monmouth and Burlington counties. According to Figures 4, 5, and 6,
several of these greater contaminated areas occurred in counties of high
population such as Ocean, Monmouth, Middlesex, Union, Camden, and
Burlington. However, occurrences also occurred in less populated
counties such as Cumberland, Gloucester, and Atlantic. Figure 7 and
Table 1 show that Ocean, Monmouth, Middlesex, Burlington,
Cumberland, and Atlantic counties all contain a higher amount of
registered mines, which could provide an explanation for the elevated
contaminant levels, because outflow often contains many dangerous
metals and contaminants that can continue to disperse even after the
mines close down (Potential Threats to, n.d.). However, for these
counties with a low number of mines and elevated contamination
values, it would be important to identify possible sources of this
contamination. Some protocol to help tackle contamination issues
before they become a great threat would be to examine storage tanks, a
source of radionuclides and volatile organic compounds like MTBE,
landfills to ensure their contents are not interacting with the
groundwater (a major source of VOCs and metals such as cadmium),
and to examine any major production plants to ensure waste is being
handled properly in these areas (Potential Threats to, n.d.).
Additionally, visiting registered mines and testing for toxic discharge
would be beneficial towards identifying contamination. If a sole-source
aquifer becomes polluted, a huge source of drinking water is lost and
cannot be replaced. Monitoring and identifying groundwater
contamination is vital to ensuring human and environmental health and
must be tackled when the threat is low and the problem is still solvable.

Figure 7. A map displaying all of the registered mines

in New Jersey. Being registered means the mines may
still be active, may be inactive, or may be a historical
site. Although both unregistered and registered mines
can be inactive, registered are more likely to be active,
therefore are more important to watch in groundwater

With only less than 1% of all water on Earth being drinkable and easily
accessible, groundwater is one of Earths most valuable natural
resources. According to The Groundwater Foundation, over 50% of the
United States population relies on groundwater for drinking water.
(Potential Threats to, n.d.). Groundwater is stored in aquifers, or
permeable bodies of rock that absorbs and stores groundwater
(Perlman, 2015). There are also special types of aquifers known as solesource aquifers (SSA); these contribute more than 50% of the drinking
water to an area and if significantly contaminated, would be impossible
to replace. New Jersey is home to seven sole-source aquifers that cover
most of the state (Overview of the Drinking, 2015). Groundwater
contamination is a significant threat to human health as contaminated
water could lead to a plethora of adverse health effects. Groundwater
contamination is often a result of a variety of anthropogenic sources
such as mines, landfills, road salts, excess nutrients, and storage tanks
(Potential Threats to, n.d.). This analysis focused on three dangerous
groundwater contaminants: cadmium, methyl tertiary-butyl ether (a
volatile organic compound), and beta particles (radionuclides that
easily penetrate the human body). All three of these contaminants can
cause fever-like systems, organ and nervous damage, and cancer
(New Jerseys Ambient, 2014). In addition to affecting human health,
these contaminants can also cause adverse environmental impacts. It
is important to monitor groundwater contaminants in New Jerseys
aquifers in order to preserve the health of its large, dense population
and environment, as well as to determine a solution to contamination
issues before they become severe.

New Jersey's Ambient Ground Water Quality Network Data. (2014, January 14).
January 10, 2016, from http://www.state.nj.us/dep/njgs/geodata/dgs052.html
Overview of the Drinking Water Sole Source Aquifer Program. (2015, October 22).
January 25, 2016, from http://www.epa.gov/dwssa/overview-drinking-waterFigures 4, 5, and 6. Groundwater monitoring spots and their recorded values represented via dot-density maps were overlayed on the New Jersey
population layer Several elevated levels of contaminants were found in counties with higher populations such as Ocean, Monmouth, Middlesex, Union,
Camden, and Burlington. However, less populated counties such as Cumberland, Gloucester, and Atlantic also showed high values.

Perlman, H. (2015, December 2). Aquifers and Groundwater. Retrieved January 20,