Occurrence and geochemistry of radium in water from principal drinking-water aquifer systems of the United States

Applied Geochemistry

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DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2011.11.002



A total of 1270 raw-water samples (before treatment) were collected from 15 principal and other major aquifer systems (PAs) used for drinking water in 45 states in all major physiographic provinces of the USA and analyzed for concentrations of the Ra isotopes 224Ra, 226Ra and 228Ra establishing the framework for evaluating Ra occurrence. The US Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 0.185Bq/L (5pCi/L) for combined Ra ( 226Ra plus 228Ra) for drinking water was exceeded in 4.02% (39 of 971) of samples for which both 226Ra and 228Ra were determined, or in 3.15% (40 of 1266) of the samples in which at least one isotope concentration ( 226Ra or 228Ra) was determined. The maximum concentration of combined Ra was 0.755Bq/L (20.4pCi/L) in water from the North Atlantic Coastal Plain quartzose sand aquifer system. All the exceedences of the MCL for combined Ra occurred in water samples from the following 7PAs (in order of decreasing relative frequency of occurrence): the Midcontinent and Ozark Plateau Cambro-Ordovician dolomites and sandstones, the North Atlantic Coastal Plain, the Floridan, the crystalline rocks (granitic, metamorphic) of New England, the Mesozoic basins of the Appalachian Piedmont, the Gulf Coastal Plain, and the glacial sands and gravels (highest concentrations in New England).The concentration of Ra was consistently controlled by geochemical properties of the aquifer systems, with the highest concentrations most likely to be present where, as a consequence of the geochemical environment, adsorption of the Ra was slightly decreased. The result is a slight relative increase in Ra mobility, especially notable in aquifers with poor sorptive capacity (Fe-oxide-poor quartzose sands and carbonates), even if Ra is not abundant in the aquifer solids. The most common occurrence of elevated Ra throughout the USA occurred in anoxic water (low dissolved-O 2) with high concentrations of Fe or Mn, and in places, high concentrations of the competing ions Ca, Mg, Ba and Sr, and occasionally of dissolved solids, K, SO 4 and HCO 3. The other water type to frequently contain elevated concentrations of the Ra radioisotopes was acidic (low pH), and had in places, high concentrations of NO 3 and other acid anions, and on occasion, of the competing divalent cations, Mn and Al. One or the other of these broad water types was commonly present in each of the PAs in which elevated concentrations of combined Ra occurred. Concentrations of 226Ra or 228Ra or combined Ra correlated significantly with those of the above listed water-quality constituents (on the basis of the non-parametric Spearman correlation technique) and loaded on principal components describing the above water types from the entire data set and for samples from the PAs with the highest combined Ra concentrations.Concentrations of 224Ra and 226Ra were significantly correlated to those of 228Ra (Spearman's rank correlation coefficient, +0.236 and +0.326, respectively). Activity ratios of 224Ra/ 228Ra in the water samples were mostly near 1 when concentrations of both isotopes were greater than or equal to 0.037Bq/L (1pCi/L), the level above which analytical results were most reliable. Co-occurrence among these highest concentrations of the Ra radionuclides was most likely in those PAs where chemical conditions are most conducive to Ra mobility (e.g. acidic North Atlantic Coastal Plain). The concentrations of 224Ra were occasionally greater than 0.037Bq/L and the ratios of 224Ra/ 228Ra were generally highest in the PAs composed of alluvial sands and Cretaceous/Tertiary sandstones from the western USA, likely because concentrations of 224Ra are enhanced in solution relative to those of 228Ra by alpha recoil from the aquifer matrix. Rapid adsorption of the two Ra isotopes (controlled by the alkaline and oxic aquifer geochemistry) combined with preferential faster recoil of 224Ra generates a 224Ra/ 228Ra ratio much greater than

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Occurrence and geochemistry of radium in water from principal drinking-water aquifer systems of the United States
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Applied Geochemistry
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