Comparison of volatile organic compounds in stormwater and groundwater in Seoul metropolitan city, South Korea

Soonyoung Yu, Pyeong Koo Lee, Seong Taek Yun, Sang Il Hwang, Gitak Chae

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) detected in stormwater were compared with VOCs present in emission sources, air, groundwater, and influent to sewage treatment plants in Seoul to understand their fate and transport in the urban hydrological system. Stormwater is a carrier of non-point source pollutants and contains VOCs from land surfaces and air. Samples of stormwater and influent to sewage treatment plants were collected and analyzed for 61 VOCs, while the VOCs in emission sources, air and groundwater were investigated through literature reviews for comparison. The results showed that the most frequently detected VOCs in stormwater were similar to those in air. However, the atmospheric concentrations of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX), and methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) were too low to explain their frequent detection and high concentrations in stormwater. As a result, land surfaces seem to be a primary source of these VOCs in stormwater. Comparison of the VOCs in stormwater and groundwater showed that toluene and MTBE were frequently detected in both media, but more often and at higher concentrations in stormwater. This finding indicates that stormwater recharge is a source of toluene and MTBE in groundwater. Regarding groundwater, land surfaces seem to be a primary source of toluene, while urban air is the primary source in the case of MTBE. Specifically, the MTBE values in air were sufficiently high to explain its levels in groundwater, which had continually increased and remained low afterward. Furthermore, the high ratios of TEX (toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes) to benzene and MTBE in stormwater indicated that TEX had additional sources other than vehicles, most likely hydrocarbon solvents. These solvents seem to be a primary source of TEX and other frequently detected VOCs in stormwater. However, trichloroethylene (TCE), tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and their dechlorination intermediates were far more frequently detected and at higher concentrations in groundwater than in stormwater. Additionally, their concentrations frequently exceeded the water-quality criteria. It seems that halogenated solvents had produced contamination plumes of these chlorinated VOCs in the Seoul aquifer. Based on VOCs detected in Seoul, stormwater was mixed with groundwater in combined sewers and flowed into sewage treatment plants. The results imply that organic solvents should be handled with extreme care to protect groundwater quality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number338
JournalEnvironmental Earth Sciences
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2017 May 1


  • Air
  • Groundwater
  • Land surface
  • Organic solvent
  • Stormwater
  • VOCs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Pollution
  • Geology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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