Early Warning Organic Compound Detection System

Early Warning Organic
Compound Detection System


The Mississippi River, with a drainage area encompassing approximately 40% of the continental United States, travels over 2,300 miles from its headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana, being the last state along the river in its trek to the Gulf of Mexico, reaps many benefits. The ports of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, respectively, are the first and fifth busiest ports in the nation. Over 350 industrial and municipal facilities are situated adjacent to the Mississippi River within the state of Louisiana. Of these, approximately 175 discharge waste water into the river under the authority of state and federal permits. These discharges, coupled with the fact that the Mississippi River drains over 40% of the continental U.S. are of great concern to the 1.5 million Louisiana citizens who depend upon the river for their drinking water supply. Because of this concern, the Early Warning Organic Compound Detection System (EWOCDS) was established.

The Office of Water Resources had previously established a program for routine sampling from the river by boats between St. Francisville and the mouth of the river. Since there are 27 municipal drinking water facilities along that stretch of the river (providing water for over 30% of Louisiana citizens), there is a great concern that in the event of an elevated amount of carcinogenic and/or toxic substances in the river may not be detected in sufficient time to provide adequate warning to the water treatment facilities. Due to the sampling rate, transportation time, analysis time, and the dynamic nature of the river, this concern was found to be of merit.

A substantial increase in both personnel and equipment would be required if the Office were to undertake a monitoring program sufficient to address the problem. Research was done to determine if any other parts of the country had a program that addressed the same concerns. It was found that the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) operates a system that fulfills many of the same needs as Louisiana. This program provided the inspiration for EWOCDS.

EWOCDS, is a cooperative agreement between DEQ, potable water works, and industries along the river. DEQ has agreed to purchase, install, and maintain gas Chromatographs, accessories, and data transmitting devices and in turn, each monitoring site provides lab space, utilities, and manpower to analyze samples. Money was appropriated in 1986 and EWOCDS was born. Cooperative agreements were then sought and obtained from five industries and three potable water works along the lower Mississippi River. Samples could now be collected and analyzed on site providing real-time data.

The type of compounds EWOCDS test for are termed volatile organic compounds (VOCs'). Because of their carcinogenic and/or toxic nature, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set maximum contaminant levels (MCLs') in drinking water for some of these compounds.

The main objective of this system is to provide warnings of possible contamination of drinking water supplies to interested parties. Secondarily, it would provide data concerning the Mississippi Rivers water quality and hopefully the mere presence of a monitoring system would serve as a deterrent to the surreptitious discharging or spilling of organic wastes into the Mississippi River.

Significant improvements to the program were made in 1990 with the installation of two online samplers. Supplying continuous fresh river water to the instruments was cost prohibitive at most sites but both Monsanto and St. James Parish Utilities agreed to bear this cost and subsequently one was installed at each site. With these online samplers, samples river water could now be collected and analyzed 24hrs/day unattended. Other sites manually collect their samples twice per day and then transport to the laboratory.

EWOCDS did suffer a loss however, when in 1999 the site in Donaldsonville, operated by the Peoples Water Service Co. (PWSCO) opted out of the program. Efforts are currently underway to replace that site nearby at the head of Bayou Lafourche. Another site change was made in 1999 when, due to the purchase or consolidation of industries, the EWOCDS site at Shell Chemical moved to the adjacent Motiva Refinery.

For more information contact the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Office of Environmental Compliance, Inspection Division at (225)219-3600 or send mail to .

Records of monitoring data can be requested from the Public Records Request Center.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality 602 N. Fifth Street Baton Rouge, LA 70802
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