Occurrence of selected radionuclides in ground water used for drinking water in the United States: A reconnaissance survey, 1998

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2000-4273
By: , and 



The U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Water Works Association, and the American Water Works Service Company, completed a targeted national reconnaissance survey of selected radionuclides in public ground-water supplies. Radionuclides analyzed included radium-224 (Ra-224), radium-226 (Ra-226), radium-228 (Ra-228), polonium-210 (Po-210) and lead-210 (Pb-210).This U.S. Geological Survey reconnaissance survey focused intentionally on areas with known or suspected elevated concentrations of radium in ground water to determine if Ra-224 was also present in the areas where other isotopes of radium had previously been detected and to determine the co-occurrence characteristics of the three radium isotopes (Ra-224, Ra-226, and Ra-228) in those areas. Ninety-nine raw-water samples (before water treatment) were collected once over a 6-month period in 1998 and 1999 from wells (94 of which are used for public drinking water) in 27 States and 8 physiographic provinces. Twenty-one of the 99 samples exceeded the current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water maximum contaminant level of 5 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) for combined radium (Ra-226 + Ra-228). Concentrations of Ra-224 were reported to exceed 1 pCi/L in 30 percent of the samples collected, with a maximum concentration of 73.6 pCi/L measured in water from a nontransient, noncommunity, public-supply well in Maryland. Radium-224 concentrations generally were higher than those of the other isotopes of radium. About 5 percent of the samples contained concentrations of Ra-224 greater than 10 pCi/L, whereas only 2 percent exceeded 10 pCi/L for either Ra-226 or Ra-228. Concentrations of Ra-226 greater than 1 pCi/L were reported in 33 percent of the samples, with a maximum concentration of 16.9 pCi/L measured in water from a public-supply well in Iowa. Concentrations of Ra-228 greater than 1 pCi/L were reported in 22 samples, with a maximum concentration of 72.3 pCi/L measured in water from a non-transient, noncommunity, public-supply well in Maryland.Radium-224, which is a decay product of Ra-228 in the Th-232 decay series, was significantly correlated with Ra-228 (Spearman?s rank correlation coefficient ?r? equals 0.82) and to a lesser degree with Ra-226 (r equals 0.69), which is an isotope in the U-238 decay series. The rank correlation coefficient between Ra-226 and Ra-228 was 0.63. The high correlation between Ra-224 and Ra-228 concentrations and the corresponding isotopic ratios of the two (about 1:1 in 90 percent of the samples) indicates that the two radionuclides occur in approximately equal concentrations in most ground water sampled. Thus, Ra-228 can be considered as a reasonable proxy indicator for the occurrence of Ra-224 in ground water.The maximum concentration of Po-210 was 4.85 pCi/L and exceeded 1 pCi/L in only two samples. The maximum concentration of Pb-210 was 4.14 pCi/L, and about 10 percent of the samples exceeded 1 pCi/L. Areas with known, or suspected, elevated concentrations of polonium and lead were not targeted in this survey.Three major implications are drawn for future radionuclide monitoring on the basis of this information: (1) grossalpha particle analyses of ground water should be done within about 48-72 hours after collection to determine the presence of the short-lived, alpha-particle emitting isotopes, such as Ra-224, which was detected in elevated concentrations in many of the samples collected for this survey; (2) the isotope ratios of Ra-224 to Ra-228 in ground water are variable on a national scale, but the two radioisotopes generally occur in ratios near 1:1, therefore, the more commonly measured Ra-228 can be used as an indicator of Ra-224 occurrence for some general purposes other than compliance; and (3) the isotopic ratios of Ra-226 to Ra-228 were less than 3:2 in many samples. These ratios corroborate results of previous studies that have shown the presence of Ra-228.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Occurrence of selected radionuclides in ground water used for drinking water in the United States: A reconnaissance survey, 1998
Series title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number 2000-4273
DOI 10.3133/wri004273
Year Published 2001
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 39 p.
Country United States
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