High naturally occurring radioactivity in fossil groundwater from the middle east

Avner Vengosh*, Daniella Hirschfeld, David Vinson, Gary Dwyer, Hadas Raanan, Omar Rimawi, Abdallah Al-Zoubi, Emad Akkawi, Amer Marie, Gustavo Haquin, Shikma Zaarur, Jiwchar Ganor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


High levels of naturally occurring and carcinogenic radium isotopes have been measured in low-saline and oxic groundwater from the Rum Group of the Disi sandstone aquifer in Jordan. The combined 228Ra and 226Ra activities are up to 2000% higher than international drinking water standards. Analyses of the host sandstone aquifer rocks show 228Ra and 226Ra activities and ratios that are consistent with previous reports of sandstone rocks from different parts of the world. A compilation of previous data in groundwater from worldwide sandstone aquifers shows large variations in Ra activities regardless of the groundwater salinity. On the basis of the distribution of the four Ra isotopes and the ratios of the short- to long-lived Ra isotopes, we postulate that Ra activity in groundwater is controlled by the balance of radioactive decay of parent Th isotopes on aquifer solids, decay of the dissolved radium isotopes, and adsorption of dissolved Ra on solid surfaces. The availability of surface adsorption sites, which depends on the clay content in the aquifer rocks, is therefore an important constraint for Ra activity in sandstone aquifers. These findings raise concerns about the safety of this and similar nonrenewable groundwater reservoirs, exacerbating the already severe water crisis in the Middle East.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1769-1775
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


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