An overview of dissolved organic carbon in groundwater and implications for drinking water safety

S. Regan, Paul Hynds, R. Flynn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is composed of a diverse array of compounds, predominantly humic substances, and is a near ubiquitous component of natural groundwater, notwithstanding climatic extremes such as arid and hyper-arid settings. Despite being a frequently measured parameter of groundwater quality, the complexity of DOC composition and reaction behaviour means that links between concentration and human health risk are difficult to quantify and few examples are reported in the literature. Measured concentrations from natural/unpolluted groundwater are typically below 4 mg C/l, whilst concentrations above these levels generally indicate anthropogenic influences and/or contamination issues and can potentially compromise water safety. Treatment processes are effective at reducing DOC concentrations, but refractory humic substance reaction with chlorine during the disinfection process produces suspected carcinogenic disinfectant by-products (DBPs). However, despite engineered artificial recharge systems being commonly used to remove DOC from recycled treated wastewaters, little research has been conducted on the presence of DBPs in potable groundwater systems. In recent years, the capacity to measure the influence of organic matter on colloidal contaminants and its influence on the mobility of pathogenic microorganisms has aided understanding of transport processes in aquifers. Additionally, advances in polymerase chain reaction techniques used for the detection, identification, and quantification of waterborne pathogens, provide a method to confidently investigate the behaviour of DOC and its effect on contaminant transfer in aquifers. This paper provides a summary of DOC occurrence in groundwater bodies and associated issues capable of indirectly affecting human health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)959-967
Number of pages9
JournalHydrogeology Journal
Issue number4
Early online date22 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017


  • Dissolve Organic Carbon
  • Health
  • Disinfectant by-products
  • Microbial processes
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction

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