KWRRI Research Reports


Optical brightener is an additive to laundry detergents and is found contaminating groundwater. Its concentration may rapidly and inexpensively be determined by fluorescence techniques, and because its source is human wastewater, its presence in groundwater serves as a direct indication of pollution from septic tanks, sewer leaks, and landfills.

A total of 105 wells and springs in an area within the Inner Bluegrass Karst Region near Lexington, Kentucky, were described and sampled. Analyses were made for optical brightener (430 samples), total coliform (91), fecal coliform (93), and fecal streptococci (90). As many as 20 optical brightener and 4 bacterial samples were analyzed from a single site during the period from May 20, 1984 to June 17, 1985. Data were also collected on spring discharges, well water.levels, and other site characteristics.

Statistical analysis of the relationship between optical brightener and the bacterial indices showed low correlations for both springs and wells, in ·contrast to an earlier study. Although time constraints have precluded a thorough analysis of the data, the difference between the results of the two studies appear to be related to differing site populations and analytic and statistical procedures. The data further suggest that the low correlations between optical brightener and the bacterial indices may be a result of bacterial contamination being largely derived from animal waste and other non-human sources, and that optical brightener may be a more reliable indicator of human contamination.

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The work upon which this report is based was supported in part by funds provided by the United States Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C., as authorized by the Water Research and Development Act of 1984. Public Law 98-146.