Tritium in groundwater from a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility near Barnwell, South Carolina, is discharging to Mary's Branch Creek. The U.S. Geological Survey conducted an investigation from 2007 to 2009 to examine the tritium concentration in trees and air samples near the creek and in background areas, in groundwater near the creek, and in surface water from the creek. Tritium was found in trees near the creek, but not in trees from background areas or from sites unlikely to be in direct root contact with tritium-contaminated groundwater. Tritium was found in groundwater near the creek and in the surface water of the creek. Analysis of tree material has the potential to be a useful tool in locating shallow tritium-contaminated groundwater. A tritium concentration of 1.4 million picocuries per liter was measured in shallow groundwater collected near a tulip poplar located in an area of tritium-contaminated groundwater discharge. Evapotranspiration rates from the tree and tritium concentrations in water extracted from tree cores indicate that during the summer, this tulip poplar may remove more than 17.1 million picocuries of tritium per day from the groundwater that otherwise would discharge to Mary's Branch Creek. Analysis of air samples near the tree showed no evidence that the transpirative release of tritium to the air created a vapor hazard in the forest.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Tritium Concentrations in Environmental Samples and Transpiration Rates from the Vicinity of Mary's Branch Creek and Background Areas, Barnwell, South Carolina, 2007-2009