Radium in the Environment

Radium in potable water
Elevated radium levels in well water are more common in deep wells, but hazardous radium levels in shallow wells also occur. Wells producing from granitic or gravel aquifers and in areas of known uranium concentrations are more likely to have high radium content.

All public water supplies should be tested regularly for radium. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a maximum contaminant level for radium-26 of 5 pCi/L (0.19 Bq/L)

Radium in food
We can find very little information about the amounts of radium present in food. Given its wide distribution in the lithosphere and its chemical similarity to magnesium, calcium, strontium and barium, we should expect elevated radium livels in foods rich in these elements. Also we should expect organs which normally concentrate these elements to concentrate radium as well.

Radium in the human body
Walton, Kologrivov and Kulp (1959), at Lamont Geological Observatory of Columbia University used a Lucas cell system to study concentration and distribution of radium in the normal human skeleton.
Our instruments use the classic Lucas cell system as in EPA Method 903.1.
Using our instrument package a technician can analyse 40 samples per day maintaining a detection limit of 1 pCi per liter (one fifth the EPA standard). Lower detection limits are possible with a larger number of detectors and longer counting times.

Procedure for radium in water
EPA Method 903.1 for radium in water is to remove the radon, let new radon grow in to equilibrium with radium, degas the new radon into a Lucas cell, and then count the scintillations.

Procedure for radium in other material
The classic method of radium analysis in solids is to dissolve or fuse the solids and put the radium into aqueous solution, then let radon grow in as above. In my thesis work at Queen's University and the Geological Survey of Canada I developed a simpler system for analysing for radium in clastic and organic stream and lake sediments and plant parts. Simply covering the solids with water allows most of the radon to escape and go into solution. I applied this method to clastic and organic lake and stream sediments, mineral and organic soils, and plant parts.

We provide all this equipment, including degassing system, Lucas cells, and radon counting system.

For instruments contact
R.H. Morse & Associates Ltd.
skype: robert.morse.toronto

Robert H. Morse, Ph.D., P.Eng.
October 17, 2012
Click here for technical details and other applications of our radon instruments.
Radium in the environment
Walton A, Kologrivov, Kulp JL. 1959. The concentration and distribution of radium in the normal human skeleton. Health Phys 1:409-416. Used a Lucas cell system to measure radium in human bones.
R.E. Rowland, 1963: Radium in human teeth: A quantitative autoradiographic study, Archives of Oral Biology Volume 8, Issue 1, January–February, Pages 13–21, IN5–IN7 annotations to follow
W.S.S. Jee, J.S. Arnold, 1960: Radioisotopes in the teeth of dogs—I: The distribution of plutonium, radium, radiothorium, mesothorium and strontium and the sequence of histopathologic changes in teeth containing plutonium, Archives of Oral Biology Volume 2, Issue 3, August 1960, Pages 215–232, IN11–IN12, 233–234, IN13–IN14, 235–236, IN15–IN16, 237–238, IN17 annotations to follow
Gregg A. DuPont , Linda J. DeBowes, 2009: Swelling and Neoplasia, in Atlas of Dental Radiography in Dogs and Cats, CHAPTER 8 Pages 182–194, Elsevier Inc. annotations to follow
THE DISTRIBUTION OF RADIUM IN HUMAN BONE By ELIZABETH LLOYD, M.SC. M.R.C. Bone-seeking Isotopes Research Unit, Churchill Hospital, Oxford Used autoradiographs to examine the distribution of radium in bone.
See references in this article for other earlier studies of radium in human bone.
ATSDR Toxicological Profile for Radium, December 1990, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease, Atlanta Several other methods of radium analysis
F.V. Clulow, a, N.K. Davéb, T.P. Limb, R. Avadhanulac, 1998: Radium-226 in water, sediments, and fish from lakes near the city of Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada. Environmental Pollution, Volume 99, Issue 1, 1998, Pages 13–28 Found elevated levels of radium in fish from a lake in a uranium mining area.
Morse, Robert H. and Lewis M. Cook, 1979: The role of radon and radium in uranium drilling, Mining Engineering, June.
Cook, Lewis M. The uranium district of the Texas coastal plain: presented at The Natural Radiation Environment III Symposium, Houston, 1978
Elevated radium levels have been found in water wells producing from sandstones in the uranium mining area of southeast Texas. Enrichments of uranium, and its daughter product radium, are common in sandstone formations worldwide. Many of these small uranium deposits, too small for mining, are capable of providing elevated amounts of radium in drinking water. Many are shallow enough to constitute a radium hazard in municipal or domestic water wells.
Z.Pourhabib, A.Binesh and S.Mohammadi, 2011: Determination of Radon and Radium in springs, Wells, Rivers and Drinking Water Samples of Ramsar in Iran. International Archive of Applied Sciences and Technology, Vol 2 [1] June 2011: 32 -36 annotations to follow
Scott R.C. and F.B Barker, 1958: Radium and uranium in groundwater of the United States in Proceedings of the 2nd U.N. International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Vol. 2, pp 153-157 annotations to follow
Watson, A.P., E.L. Etnier and L.M. McDowell-Boyer, 1983: RADIUM-226 IN DRINKING WATER AND TERRESTRIAL FOOD CHAINS: A REVIEW OF PARAMETERS AND AN ESTIMATE OF POTENTIAL EXPOSURE AND DOSE, Contract W-7405-eng-26 HEALTH AND SAFETY RESEARCH DIVISION, OAK RIDGE NATIONAL LABORATORY, U. S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY. "Environmental transport of 226Ra from geological formations to drinking water and from soil to vegetation, meat and milk were quantitatively analyzed following a review of literature. Both natural and industrial sources were investigated. Particular attention was given to references specific for the phosphate-mining region of southwestern Florida." (These phosphate deposits are known to contain elevated levels of uranium and its decay products including radium.) "Annual human exposure and 50-year dose commitments to bone, lung, liver, kidney and whole body were estimated by assuming mean concentration factors as well as annual food and water consumption rates."
Numerous references and compilations of environmental radium data.
Radium analytical methods
Lucas, Henry F., 1957: Improved low-level alpha scintillation counter for radon, Rev. Sci. Instruments, vol 28, No. 9, pp 680-683. Credited with invention of the Lucas cell, a hollow cylinder sealed at one end with a glass window and coated on the inside with silver-activated zinc sulfide. This material emits a photon of light (scintillates) and this scintillation is detected by a photomultiplier tube and counted by an electronic apparatus. The Lucas cell is the size of a drinking cup because that is the range of an alpha particle in air.
Faul, H. (Ed.), 1954: Nuclear Geology; John Wiley and Sons, New York, pp. 42-48. Describes the classic method of measuring radium-226 in water, which consists of letting nascent radon-222, from radium-226, grow in solution in the water, and then measuring the nascent radon.
Dyck, 1969: Radon determination apparatus for geochemical prospecting for uranium, Geol. Survey of Canada, paper 68-21. Developed a portable Lucas cell system which is the predecessor of our instrument. We have been providing battery operated radon instruments since 1972.
Radium-226 Analysis by EPA Method 903.1, EPA training Tutorial 5.3 The EPA method uses a Lucas cell system like ours. I have analysed several hundred well and surface water samples for radium using our Lucas cells and a somewhat simpler method. Detection limit can be 1 pCi/L or even lower depending on counting time.
Morse, Robert H., 1970: The surficial geochemistry of radium, radon and uranium near Bancroft, Ontario with applications to prospecting for uranium, Ph.D. Thesis, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario Developed a rapid system for analysing radium in geological materials, and later applied it to plant parts. Simply cover the sample with water and let the daughter radon grow into equilibrium in solution, then measure the radon in the water.

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