Geochemistry of and radioactivity in ground water of the Highland Rim and Central Basin aquifer systems, Hickman and Maury Counties, Tennessee

U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Investigations Report 92-4092

by Gregg E. Hileman and Roger W. Lee

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A reconnaissance of the geochemistry of and radioactivity in ground water from the Highland Rim and Central Basin aquifer systems in Hickman and Maury Counties, Tennessee, was conducted in 1989. Water in both aquifer systems typically is of the calcium or calcium magnesium bicarbonate type, but concentrations of calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfate are greater in water of the Central Basin system; differences in the concentrations are statistically significant. Dissolution of calcite, magnesium-calcite, dolomite, and gypsum are the primary geochemical processes controlling ground-water chemistry in both aquifer systems. Saturation-state calculations using the computer code WATEQF indicated that ground water from the Central Basin system is more saturated with respect to calcite, dolomite, and gypsum than water from the Highland Rim system. Geochemical environments within each aquifer system are somewhat different with respect to dissolution of magnesium-bearing minerals. Water samples from the Highland Rim system had a fairly constant calcium to magnesium molar ratio, implying congruent dissolution of magnesium-bearing minerals, whereas water samples from the Central Basin system had highly variable ratios, implying either incongruent dissolution or heterogeneity in soluble constituents of the aquifer matrix.

Concentrations of radionuclides in water were low and not greatly different between aquifer systems. Median gross alpha activities were 0.54 picocuries per liter in water from each system; median gross beta activities were 1.1 and 2.3 picocuries per liter in water from the Highland Rim and Central Basin systems, respectively. Radon-222 concentrations were 559 and 422 picocuries per liter, respectively. Concentrations of gross alpha and radium in all samples were substantially less than Tennessee’s maximum permissible levels for community water-supply systems. The data indicated no relations between concentrations of dissolved radionuclides (uranium, radium-226, radium-228, radon-222, gross alpha, and gross beta) and any key indicators of water chemistry, except in water from the Highland Rim system, in which radon-222 was moderately related to pH and weakly related to dissolved magnesium. The only relation among radiochemical constituents indicated by the data was between radium-226 and gross alpha activity; this relation was indicated for water from both aquifer systems.

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