Emerging contaminants in groundwater, karst, and the Edwards (Balcones Fault Zone) Aquifer

Barbara J. Mahler
MaryLynn Musgrove

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Karst aquifers have hydrogeologic characteristics that render them uniquely vulnerable to contamination from emerging contaminants (ECs). ECs comprise numerous chemical groups, including pharmaceuticals, personal-care products, flame retardants, perfluorinated and polyfluorinated compounds, nanoparticles, and microplastics. Many ECs have sources, transport pathways, and chemical characteristics that facilitate their infiltration into groundwater, either indirectly from surface water or directly from sources such as landfill leachate and septic systems. What little is known about the occurrence, fate, and transport of ECs in the Edwards (Balcones Fault Zone) Aquifer indicates that the aquifer might be increasingly vulnerable to this type of contamination. The natural physical characteristics of this karst aquifer and anthropogenic sources of ECs associated with increased urbanization in central Texas contribute to this vulnerability. In this chapter, we review groups of ECs and their sources, occurrence of ECs in groundwater and karst, and current knowledge about the occurrence of ECs in the Edwards Aquifer. We conclude by discussing specific factors, such as rapid flow and contaminant sources, that contribute to the vulnerability of the Edwards Aquifer to contamination by ECs.