Radium isotopes are common radioactive constituents of natural waters. The concentration of radium-226 in potable water is of particular significance because this isotope is generally considered the most hazardous of all radionuclides with respect to ingestion.
The approximate concentration of radium-226 is determined after coprecipitating radium with barium sulfate. The short-lived daughters of radium are allowed to grow for 10-12 days, then the alpha activity of the precipitate is measured and compared with that of a precipitate containing a known amount of radium-226. Concentrations of the individual alpha-emitting isotopes of radium-223, radium-224, and radium-226, are determined by coprecipitating radium first with lead sulfate, then with barium chloride, and finally with barium sulfate. This final precipitate is initially free of other alpha-emitting nuclides, thus permitting the isotopic composition to be determined by measuring the growth and decay of the alpha activity of the precipitate.