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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Abesser, C. (2009). Measuring radon in water using a portable liquid scintillation counter. Nottingham: British Geological Survey Open Report, OR/09/006, 19 pp.
Al-Azmi, D., Snopek, B., Sayed, A., & Domanski, T. (2004). A simple bubbling system for measuring radon (Rn-222) gas concentrations in water samples based on the high solubility of radon in olive oil. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity,71(2), 175–186.
Appleton, J. (2013). Radon in air and water. In O. Selinus, B. Alloway, J. Centeno, R. Finkelman, R. Fuge, U. Lindh, & P. Smedley (Eds.), Essentials of medical geology: Revised edition (pp. 239–279). Dordrecht: Springer.
Bearcock, J., Smedley, P., & Milne, C. (2016). Baseline groundwater chemistry: The Corallian of the Vale of Pickering, Yorkshire. British Geological Survey Open Report, OR/15/048. 70 pp.
Canet, A., & Jacquemin, R. (1990). Methods for measuring radium isotopes: Gamma spectrometry. In: IAEA: Technical report series no. 310: The environmental behaviour of radium volume one. Vienna: IAEA (pp. 189–204).
Celaya González, S., Rábago Gómez, R., Fuente Merino, I., Quindós López, L., Bon Carreras, N., Valero Castell, M. T., et al. (2018). A simple national intercomparison of radon in water. Radiation Protection Dosimetry,181(4), 343–349.
Cosma, C., Moldovan, M., Dicu, T., & Kovács, T. (2008). Radon in water from Transylvania (Romania). Radiation Measurements,43(8), 1423–1428.
DWI. (2018). Guidance on the implementation of the water supply (water quality) regulations 2016 (as amended) in England and the water supply (water quality) regulations (Wales) 2018—Part 4, 29 pp. Accessed September 13, 2018, from http://www.dwi.gov.uk/stakeholders/guidance-and-codes-of-practice/wswq/index.html.
Ford, J., Hughes, L., Burke, H., & Lee, J. (2015). The Vale of Pickering: An initial summary of the quaternary/superficial geology and data holdings. British Geological Survey Open Report, OR/15/064. 15 pp.
Gallannaugh, E., Gowing, C., Marriott, A., & Smedley, P. (2016). Measurement of radon-222 levels in groundwater using liquid scintillation counting. British Geological Survey Internal Report, IR/16/005, 34 pp.
Gandossi, L., & Von Estorff, U. (2015). An overview of hydraulic fracturing and other formation stimulation technologies for shale gas production. Accessed on July 23, 2017, from http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC98582/an%20overview%20of%20hydraulic%20fracturing%20and%20other%20stimulation%20technologies%20-%20update%202015.pdf.
Hemingway, J. E. (1974). Jurassic. In J. E. Hemingway & D. H. Rayner (Eds.), The geology and mineral resources of Yorkshire (pp. 161–233). Leeds: Yorkshire Geological Society.
HIDEX. (2015). Triathler LSC. Accessed on October 16, 2017, from http://hidex.com/products/liquid-scintillation-counters/thriatler-lsc/.
Hopke, P., Borak, T., Doull, J., Cleaver, J., Eckerman, K., Gunderson, L., et al. (2000). Health risks due to radon in drinking water. Environmental Science and Technology,34, 921–926.
IAEA. (2014). IAEA-TEL-2014-03 world wide open proficiency test.
Jobbágy, V., Altzitzoglou, T., Malo, P., Tanner, V., & Hult, M. (2017). A brief overview on radon measurements in drinking water. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity,173, 18–24.
Kemski, J., Klingel, R., & Siehl, A. (1996). Classification and mapping of radon-affected areas in Germany. Environment International,22(1), 789–798.
Kibble, A., Cabianca, T., Daraktchieva, Z., Gooding, T., Smithard, J., Kowalczyk, G., McColl, N. P., Singh, M, Mitchem, L., Lamb, P., Vardoulakis, S., & Kamanyire, R. (2014). Review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of the shale gas extraction process. PHE Report PHE-CRCE-009, 52 pp.
Leaney, F., & Herczeg, A. (2006). A rapid field extraction method for determination of radon-222 in natural waters by liquid scintillation counting. Limnology and Oceanography Methods,4, 254–259.
Miles, J. C. H., Appleton, J. D., Rees, D. M., Green, B. M. R, Adlam, K. A. M., & Myers, A.H. (2007). Indicative atlas of radon in England and Wales. PHE Report PHE HPA-RPD-033, 29 pp.
Mitchell, A. (2013). Analysis of health and environmental risks associated with Marcellus shale development. Accessed on September 18, 2017, http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1269&context=dissertations.
Nikolova, J., Stojkovićb, I., Todorovića, N., Tenjovićc, B., Vukovića, S., & Kneževića, J. (2018). Evaluation of different LSC methods for 222Rn determination in waters. Applied Radiation and Isotopes,142, 56–63.
Nucléide LARA. (2017). Library for alpha and gamma emissions. Accessed on June 8, 2017, from http://www.nucleide.org/Laraweb/.
Pates, J., Cook, G., MacKenzie, A., & Thomson, J. (1993). The development of an alpha/beta separation liquid scintillation cocktail for aqueous samples. Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry,172(2), 341–348.
Schubert, M., Buerkin, W., Peña, P., Lopez, A., & Balcázar, M. (2006). On-site determination of the radon concentration in water samples: Methodical background and results from laboratory studies and a field-scale test. Radiation Measurements,41(4), 492–497.
Schubert, M., Paschke, A., Lieberman, E., & Burnett, W. C. (2012). Air-water partitioning of 222Rn and its dependence on water salinity. Environmental Science and Technology,46, 3905–3911.
Skeppström, K., & Olofsson, B. (2007). Uranium and radon in groundwater. European Water,17(18), 51–62.
Smedley, P., Ward, R., Bearcock, J., & Bowes, M. (2017). Establishing the baseline in groundwater chemistry in connection with shale-gas exploration: Vale of Pickering, UK. Procedia Earth and Planetary Science,17, 678–681.
Ward, R. S., Allen, G., Baptie, B. J., Daraktchievea, Z., Jones, D. G., Jordan, C. J., Purvis, R. M., & Smedley, P. L. (2016). Environmental baseline monitoring—Vale of Pickering: Phase I—Final report (2015/16). British Geological Survey Open Report OR/16/002, 96 pp.
Ward, R. S., Smedley, P. L., Allen, G., Baptie, B. J., Daraktchieva, Z., Horleston, A., Jones, D. G., Jordan, C. J., Lewis, A., Lowry, D., Purvis, R. M., & Rivett, M. O. (2017). Environmental baseline monitoring project: Phase II—Final report. British Geological Survey Open Report OR/17/049, 166 pp.
World Health Organization. (2016). Radon and health. Accessed on July 10, 2017, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs291/en/.
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.
Conflict of interest
It is declared by all authors that this study involves no conflict of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10653-019-00335-1
- Liquid scintillation counting