The Correlation Between Bedrock Uranium and Dissolved Radon in Ground Water of a Fractured Carbonate Aquifer in Southwestern Ohio

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Two hypotheses have previously been proposed for the source of elevated radon in ground water of southwestern Ohio: (1) penecontemporaneous uranium at the Silurian-Ordovician unconformity, and/or (2) parent radionuclides transported from fragments of uranium-rich Ohio Shale within the glacial drift above the aquifer. To further test the first hypothesis, vertical profiles of dissolved radon in ground water and uranium in rock cores were obtained at two locations immediately underlain by the Silurian/Ordovician unconformity. Radon concentrations exceeding 1000 pCi/l occurred in zones where the bedrock had uranium concentrations greater than 1.5 ppm. Radon concentrations of less than 500 pCi/l occurred in zones where the rock had uranium concentrations below 0.25 ppm. A log-linear regression model between uranium and radon had a correlation coefficient of 0.82. Three aspects of the results support the hypothesis that the source is transported, although not necessarily from fragments of Ohio Shale. First, the high uranium-radon zones did not occur consistently or exclusively at the Silurian/Ordovician unconformity. Second, the high uranium-radon zones are correlated to fracture zones having a higher hydraulic conductivity and thus appear to be related to the zones of greater flow and transport. Third, the amount of uranium-radon disequilibrium increases exponentially with increasing hydraulic conductivity. The hypothesis of a penecontemporaneous source, not supported by our study, arose when previous investigators conducted regional surveys of domestic wells and springs and found a correspondence between elevated radon and the location of the Silurian-Ordovician unconformity. The observations of the previous investigators can be explained by the fact that the basal Silurian is in some places a horizon of higher hydraulic conductivity that facilitates transport. The two most probable external sources of uranium would be uranium-containing detritus in the glacial drift or uranium-containing phosphate fertilizers spread on the surface. Given that the uranium was transported into the aquifer during the Holocene, it could not have generated enough radium in the time elapsed since entering the aquifer to produce the radon levels that were measured. This observation indicates that radium was cotransported with uranium into the zones of high radon.



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