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A comparison of groundwater sampling technologies, including passive diffusion sampling, for radionuclide contamination

March 12, 2020

Using traditional high-flow purge methods for long-term water quality monitoring of deep groundwater wells can be expensive, affect contaminant migration, and produce excessive volumes of discharge water that can be difficult to manage. The use of low-flow pumping methods and depth discrete bailers (DDBs) can reduce the cost of sampling deep groundwater wells. In general, using different pumping methods to obtain reproducible and representative groundwater can be challenging. Passive diffusion samplers (PDSs) have successfully been used in long-term monitoring for volatile organic compounds, major ions, and trace-elements, but application has been limited for stable and radioactive isotopes. Beginning in 2018, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted three sampling events to test the ability of PDSs and DDBs to obtain reproducible and representative groundwater samples. The sampled well is completed in a regional, permeable carbonate aquifer and is one in a set of wells that have historically been used for tritium tracer testing. All samples were obtained at 180 m (590 ft) below land surface (bls) in a 13.97 cm (5.5 inch) uncased well that has a total depth of 202 m (662 ft) bls. The first sampling event deployed a regenerated cellulose dialysis membrane (RCDM) PDS for 14 days with deionized water as the blank. The second sampling event deployed a RCDM for 27 days also with deionized water as the blank. The third sampling event deployed a Dual Membrane (DM) PDS for 65 days using a blank of tritium-dead carbonate water. The DM PDS was used to assess the effect of longer-term deployment on tritium concentrations and address whether or not the PDSs reached equilibrium with ambient groundwater. The day after each of the three passive samplers were retrieved a DDB was used to obtain discrete non-integrated groundwater samples. For each DDB sampling day, the bailer was lowered into the well 10 consecutive times to determine if the water chemistry changed from the first to the last bailed sample. Quality assurance samples including blanks and duplicates were obtained during all three sampling events. All blank waters had tritium concentrations less than 21±33 pCi/L. Major ion (e.g. calcium, chloride, sodium, and sulfate) results were compared between all samples obtained with RCDM and DDB. Major ion concentrations showed a coefficient of variation of less than 6% between all RCDM and DDB samples; however, the coefficient of variation between the different deployment times and the two different methods for trace-element concentrations was much larger, particularly for manganese (82%), lead (41%), and zinc (33%). Stable isotope values were compared between the RCDM and DDB samples. The DDB sample results all fell within analytical uncertainty and were considered representative of the formation groundwater. The stable isotope values from the RCDM samples indicated that a longer deployment time was necessary to gain equilibrium and to obtain representative groundwater samples. Tritium results from groundwater samples obtained from the RCDM, DM, and DDB indicate that groundwaters obtained with PDSs produced tritium concentrations 2 to 3 times higher (between 1,426 and 3,060±87 pCi/L) than groundwaters obtained with a DDB (479 to 1,219±51 pCi/L). The longer the passive diffusion samplers were deployed, the higher the tritium concentration, suggesting that equilibrium with tritium was not reached within a 27-day deployment. DDB samples showed tritium results declining from the first to the last bailed sample for all three sampling events. This research suggests that tritium results from groundwater samples obtained from PDSs are more reproducible than samples obtained from DDBs. Also, PDSs likely do not accumulate isotopes of water but rather equilibrate with the ambient groundwater. On the other hand, both PDSs and DDBs were able to provide representative groundwater samples for major ions and have the potential to produce.

Publication Year 2020
Title A comparison of groundwater sampling technologies, including passive diffusion sampling, for radionuclide contamination
Authors Rebecca J. Frus, Thomas Imbrigiotta
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70209341
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center; New Jersey Water Science Center