Ground-water samples collected from 267 wells were analyzed for radon as part of a water-quality reconnaissance of subunits of the Lower Susquehanna and Potomac River Basins conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program. Radon is a product of the radioactive decay of uranium. Airborne radon has been cited by the Surgeon General of the United States as the second-leading cause of lung cancer and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has identified ground-water supplies as possible contributing sources of indoor radon. Eighty percent of ground-water samples collected for this study were found to contain radon at activities greater than 300 pCi/L (picocuries per liter), the USEPA's proposed Maximum Contaminant Level for radon in drinking water, and 31 percent of samples contained radon at activities greater than 1,000 pCi/L. The 10 subunits where samples were collected were grouped into three classes - median ground-water radon activity less than 300 pCi/L, between 300 pCi/L and 1,000 pCi/L, and greater than 1,000 pCi/L. Subunits underlain by igneous and metamorphic rocks of the Piedmont Physiographic Province typically have the highest median ground-water radon activities (greater than 1,000 pCi/L); although there is a large variation in radon activities within most of the subunits. Lower median radon activities (between 300 pCi/L and 1,000 pCi/L) were found in ground water in subunits underlain by limestone and dolomite. Of three subunits underlain by sandstone and shale, one fell into each of the three radon-activity classes. The large variability within these subunits may be attributed to the fact that the uranium content of sandstone and shale is related to the uranium content of the sediments from which they formed.
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USGS Numbered Series
Radon in ground water of the Lower Susqehanna and Potomac River basins