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Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5253

Prepared in cooperation with the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma

Groundwater Quality and the Relation Between pH Values and Occurrence of Trace Elements and Radionuclides in Water Samples Collected from Private Wells in Part of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma Jurisdictional Area, Central Oklahoma, 2011

By Carol J. Becker

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (3.20 MB)Abstract

From 1999 to 2007, the Indian Health Service reported that gross alpha-particle activities and concentrations of uranium exceeded the Maximum Contaminant Levels for public drinking-water supplies in water samples from six private wells and two test wells in a rural residential neighborhood in the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma Jurisdictional Area, in central Oklahoma. Residents in this rural area use groundwater from Quaternary-aged terrace deposits and the Permian-aged Garber–Wellington aquifer for domestic purposes. Uranium and other trace elements, specifically arsenic, chromium, and selenium, occur naturally in rocks composing the Garber–Wellington aquifer and in low concentrations in groundwater throughout its extent. Previous studies have shown that pH values above 8.0 from cation-exchange processes in the aquifer cause selected metals such as arsenic, chromium, selenium, and uranium to desorb (if present) from mineral surfaces and become mobile in water. On the basis of this information, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, conducted a study in 2011 to describe the occurrence of selected trace elements and radionuclides in groundwater and to determine if pH could be used as a surrogate for laboratory analysis to quickly and inexpensively identify wells that might contain high concentrations of uranium and other trace elements.

The pH and specific conductance of groundwater from 59 private wells were measured in the field in an area of about 18 square miles in Lincoln and Pottawatomie Counties. Twenty of the 59 wells also were sampled for dissolved concentrations of major ions, trace elements, gross alpha-particle and gross beta-particle activities, uranium, radium-226, radium-228, and radon-222 gas.

Arsenic concentrations exceeded the Maximum Contaminant Level of 10 micrograms per liter in one sample having a concentration of 24.7 micrograms per liter. Selenium concentrations exceeded the Maximum Contaminant Level of 50 micrograms per liter in one sample having a concentration of 147 micrograms per liter. Both samples had alkaline pH values, 8.0 and 8.4, respectively. Uranium concentrations ranged from 0.02 to 383 micrograms per liter with 5 of 20 samples exceeding the Maximum Contaminant Level of 30 micrograms per liter; the five wells with uranium concentrations exceeding 30 micrograms per liter had pH values ranging from 8.0 to 8.5. Concentrations of uranium and radon-222 and gross alpha-particle activity showed a positive relation to pH, with the highest concentrations and activity in samples having pH values of 8.0 or above. The groundwater samples contained dissolved oxygen and high concentrations of bicarbonate; these characteristics are also factors in increasing uranium solubility.

Concentrations of radium-226 and radium-228 (combined) ranged from 0.03 to 1.7 picocuries per liter, with a median concentration of 0.45 picocuries per liter for all samples. Radon-222 concentrations ranged from 95 to 3,600 picocuries per liter with a median concentration of 261 picocuries per liter. Eight samples having pH values ranging from 8.0 to 8.7 exceeded the proposed Maximum Contaminant Level of 300 picocuries per liter for radon-222. Eight samples exceeded the 15 picocuries per liter Maximum Contaminant Level for gross alpha-particle activity at 72 hours (after sample collection) and at 30 days (after the initial count); those samples had pH values ranging from 8.0 to 8.5. Gross beta-particle activity increased in 15 of 21 samples during the interval from 72 hours to 30 days. The increase in gross beta-particle activity over time probably was caused by the ingrowth and decay of uranium daughter products that emit beta particles.

Water-quality data collected for this study indicate that pH values above 8.0 are associated with potentially high concentrations of uranium and radon-222 and high gross alpha-particle activity in the study area. High pH values also are associated with potentially high concentrations of arsenic, chromium, and selenium in groundwater when these elements occur in the aquifer matrix along groundwater-flow paths.

Revised March 5, 2013

First posted January 24, 2013

For additional information contact:
Director, Oklahoma Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
202 NW 66th, Bldg 7
Oklahoma City, OK 73116
http://ok.water.usgs.gov/

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Suggested citation:

Becker, C.J., 2013, Groundwater quality and the relation between pH values and occurrence of trace elements and radionuclides in water samples collected from private wells in part of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma Jurisdictional Area, central Oklahoma, 2011: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5253, 47 p., 5 apps. (Revised March, 2013.)



Contents

Abstract

Introduction

Methods

Groundwater Quality

Relation Between pH and Occurrence of Trace Elements and Radionuclides

Summary

References

Appendix 1. Water-property measurements and concentrations of major ions measured in water samples collected from 20 private wells in part of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma Jurisdictional Area, central Oklahoma, 2011

Appendix 2. Trace-element concentrations measured in water samples collected from 20 private wells in part of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma Jurisdictional Area, central Oklahoma, 2011

Appendix 3. Radionuclide concentrations measured in water samples collected from 20 private wells in part of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma Jurisdictional Area, central Oklahoma, 2011

Appendix 4. Analytical relative percent difference for concentrations of major ions and trace elements (including uranium) in quality-control samples, in addition to equipment-blank results, for water samples collected from 20 private wells in part of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma Jurisdictional Area, central Oklahoma, 2011

Appendix 5. Analytical relative percent difference for concentrations of radionuclides (not including uranium) in quality-control samples for water samples collected from 20 private wells in part of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma Jurisdictional Area, central Oklahoma, 2011


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