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Geochemical behavior of uranium and thorium in sand and sandy soil samples from a natural high background radiation area of the Odisha coast, India


Owing to their natural radioactivity, uranium (U) and thorium (Th) play significant roles in environmental sciences for monitoring radiation dose and in geological sciences for understanding sedimentary processes. The Odisha coastal area, in eastern India, is a well-known high background radiation area that is rich in monazites and rutile. This area was selected to study geochemical characteristics of U and Th in sand and sandy soil samples. The concentrations of U and Th were measured using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). The median, geometric mean, and standard deviation for U were determined to be 6, 4.5, and 2.5 μg/g and for Th were 186, 123.3, and 3.1 μg/g, respectively. Major element concentrations were evaluated using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to get the mineralogical composition and state of chemical weathering. The ratios of Th/U and Th/K varied from 4 to 37 and from 13 to 1058, respectively. These results clearly indicate that the samples from the coastal region were formed in an oxidizing and intense chemical weathering terrestrial environment with an enrichment of radiogenic heavy minerals (monazites and zircon) and clay mineral association. Since the majority of the samples have undergone moderate to intense weathering in the oxidizing environment, U is leached from the soil and sand matrix. Eventually, Th resides in the matrix and becomes a major source for radiation exposure in the environment. The high ratios of Th/U, along with the strong positive correlation between Th and P2O5, evidence the enrichment of the Th-bearing radioactive mineral, monazite, in these samples.

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N. V. is thankful to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo, Japan, for the award of a doctoral fellowship from “Tokyo Human Resources Fund for City Diplomacy” to support this study at Tokyo Metropolitan University. We are thankful to Dr. Amulya Tripathy, Berhampur University, Odisha, India, for his kind support during field study. We would also like to thank Dr. Peter Bossew (German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, Berlin) for fruitful discussion about natural radionuclides in HBRA. The present paper was improved by valuable and constructive comments from reviewers.

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Correspondence to Sarata Kumar Sahoo.

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The supplementary information is available for (i) cross section of beach placer deposit with alternate dark (heavy minerals) and white (light minerals) bands (sampling station OD-12, Gopalpur beach), (ii) bivariate plot of SiO2 vs (Al2O3 + K2O + Na2O) (in wt%) to discriminate paleo-climate conditions during deposition of HBRA sand and sandy soil, (iii) concentration of U in HBRA sand and sandy soil samples, (iv) concentration of Th in HBRA sand and sandy soil samples, (v) location of samples, number of samples, sample types and ambient dose rate in air, and (vi) major element oxide compositions of HBRA sand and sandy soil samples and the chemical index of alteration (CIA) values. (DOCX 1.40 MB)

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Veerasamy, N., Sahoo, S.K., Inoue, K. et al. Geochemical behavior of uranium and thorium in sand and sandy soil samples from a natural high background radiation area of the Odisha coast, India. Environ Sci Pollut Res 27, 31339–31349 (2020).

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  • Thorium
  • Uranium
  • HBRA
  • ICP-MS
  • Monazite
  • Geochemical facies