Groundwater Fact File

Groundwater plays a crucial role in the health of our waterways but it is also vulnerable to contamination as a result of industrial activity. Preserving groundwater quality is one of the most important environmental responsibilities within the industrial sector and it is vital that site owners and commercial operators ensure that their activities have a minimal effect on this valuable resource.

What is it?

Groundwater is naturally occurring water which exists beneath the surface of the earth and fills the ‘pores’ between soil layers and fractures within rock formations. Groundwater is interconnected with all the other natural waterways in the landscape; it feeds into rivers, streams and lakes and is replenished by rainfall. An important resource, groundwater makes up some 20% of the world’s freshwater reserves and is particularly valuable in arid, drought prone areas like Australia where it is heavily relied on for consumption and agricultural purposes in states like Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

How does industrial activity affect groundwater?

Industrial activity can affect groundwater quality in a number of ways; water is a fantastic solvent and although the earth has a number of natural filtration mechanisms, groundwater can still dissolve and carry high levels of chemicals and gases. Heavy metals, organic solvents and hydrocarbons are all common contaminants which can end up in the groundwater, but there are many others. Leakage of contaminants from industrial sites is a key concern and there are a number of potential sources of leakage including storage tanks, effluent pipe work and other transfer systems, chemical storage areas and solid process waste disposal sites as well as industrial collectors and sewers. Inappropriate disposal can also become an issue with soakaways or waste injection cells.

What are the implications of contaminated groundwater?

Contaminated groundwater can have a significant effect on both the environment and human health. Once chemicals are in the groundwater it is very difficult to remove and the contamination can quickly spread into waterways. The affects of contaminated groundwater vary on the type and volume of chemicals present but it can range from mild health problems through to complete environmental destruction.

How do I know if my site needs to be checked?

Sites where industrial processes were once carried out, where waste is dumped and chemicals are stored or produced need to be checked as they pose a potential threat to groundwater quality.

What can be done if there is contamination?

If groundwater contamination is present, then a management plan needs to be formulated and put in place. This may include remediation and harm minimisation strategies.

Alpha Environmental offers professional groundwater assessment and management solutions in Melbourne. Get in touch with us today on 9415 8002.