Some considerations in applying background concentrations to ground water studies

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


Ground water scientists, especially those working in the environmental field, frequently use the concept of background values. Originally conceived for use in exploration geology, the background concept has been embraced and modified by the environmental geoscience community, primarily by estimating concentrations of contaminants in pristine areas. The USGS (2004) defines background concentration in its Water Basics glossary as “a concentration of a substance in a particular environment that is indicative of minimal influence by human (anthropogenic) sources.” Behind this deceptively simple concept, however, are a host of complexities that we discussed in some detail in a previous article (Panno et al. 2006). Runnells (1998) pointed out that the misuse or misunderstanding of background can lead to poor economic decisions in the exploration geochemistry field. We believe that the background concept is sometimes used in ground water studies with little thought for its implications, and its misuse can lead to poor remediation/policy decisions. In this commentary, we summarize the problems often encountered in determining background concentrations originally discussed in our earlier article and offer suggestions for a more rigorous approach.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)790-792
Number of pages3
JournalGround Water
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2008



ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences

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