Method development for rapid quantification of Rn-222 in surface water and groundwater


Understanding the risks of a developing unconventional hydrocarbons industry, including shale gas, to the chemical quality of surface water and groundwater involves firstly establishing baseline compositions against which any future changes can be assessed. Contaminants of geogenic origin are of particular interest and radon has been identified as one potential contaminant from shale sources. Robust measurement and monitoring of radon in water at environmental concentrations is essential for ensuring protection of water sources and maintaining public confidence. Traditional techniques for Rn-222 determination in water, such as inference by gamma spectrometry and direct alpha counting, are impractical for direct field measurement, and the relatively short half-life of Rn-222 (~ 3.82 days) means that longer analytical protocols from field to the laboratory may result in greater uncertainty for Rn-222 activity. Therefore, a rapid and low-cost method would be beneficial. We have developed and refined a laboratory procedure for Rn-222 monitoring using liquid scintillation counting (LSC). The accuracy of Rn-222 activities obtained via this procedure was evaluated by the analysis of almost 200 water samples collected from streams and boreholes as part of a detailed baseline investigation in the Vale of Pickering, Yorkshire, one potential location for future shale gas exploration. LSC was preferred for measurement of Rn-222 and had comparable accuracy to gamma spectrometry and direct alpha counting. The methodology provided a rapid, portable and low-maintenance option relative to the two established techniques and is shown to be a favourable choice for the measurement of radon in surface water and groundwater at environmental concentrations.

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Funding for this project was from the BGS Development of Capability fund, Centre for Environmental Geochemistry and Innovations programmes, in collaboration with the BGS Groundwater Directorate, the latter under a grant from the UK Government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), from which the survey design, sampling, chemical (ICP-MS) and Rn (AlphaGUARD) analysis was funded. Jenny Bearcock is thanked for the field planning and collection of the groundwater and surface water samples. Lorraine Field and Tony Milodowski are thanked for setting up AlphaGUARD analysis. This work is published with the permission of the Executive Director for the British Geological Survey.

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Correspondence to Charles J. B. Gowing.

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Scintillator Ratio Trial—Display of instrument αβ-pulse profile, α-spectrum and β-spectrum from the scintillator mixes investigated (Ultima Gold™ F: Ultima Gold™ uLLT in ratios 1:2, 1:1, 2:1 and 4:1) (PDF 797 kb)

Analytical Run Time Trial—Display of instrument αβ-pulse profile, α-spectrum and β-spectrum from the analytical run times investigated (30, 60 and 120 min) (PDF 964 kb)

Salinity and alkalinity—radon activity concentrations determined in solutions with specified salinity (Cl-) and alkalinity (HCO3) (XLSX 19 kb)

Temperature influence results radon activity concentrations determined in solutions stored at specified temperatures (22˚C, 4˚C and 30˚C) (XLSX 20 kb)

Calculation of limit of detection (XLSX 13 kb)

Rn-222 activity values obtained using the Triathler LSC, gamma spectrometry (GS) and direct alpha counting (AG) (XLSX 22 kb)

Comparison of Rn-222 activities by water source (groundwater or surface water) and aquifer (Corallian or superficial deposit) (XLSX 19 kb)

Supplementary material 8 (PDF 1185 kb)

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Gowing, C.J.B., Dinsley, J.M., Gallannaugh, E.L. et al. Method development for rapid quantification of Rn-222 in surface water and groundwater. Environ Geochem Health 42, 1109–1115 (2020).

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  • Radon
  • Groundwater
  • Health
  • Radioactivity
  • NORM
  • Liquid scintillation counting
  • Triathler