Radon occurrence in groundwater from 16 geologic units in Pennsylvania

Evaluation of radon occurrence in groundwater from 16 geologic units in Pennsylvania, 1986–2015, with application to potential radon exposure from groundwater and indoor air
Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5018

“Results from 1,041 groundwater samples collected during 1986‒2015 from 16 geologic units in Pennsylvania, associated with 25 or more groundwater samples with concentrations of radon-222, were evaluated in an effort to identify variations in radon-222 activities or concentrations and to classify potential radon-222 exposure from groundwater and indoor air. Radon-222 is hereafter referred to as “radon.” Radon concentrations in groundwater greater than or equal to the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum contaminant level (MCL) for public-water supply systems of 300 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) were present in about 87 percent of the water samples, whereas concentrations greater than or equal to the proposed alternative MCL (AMCL) for public water-supply systems of 4,000 pCi/L were present in 14 percent. The highest radon concentrations were measured in groundwater from the schists, gneisses, and quartzites of the Piedmont Physiographic Province.

In this study, conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, groundwater samples were aggregated among 16 geologic units in Pennsylvania to identify units with high median radon concentrations in groundwater. Graphical plots and statistical tests were used to determine variations in radon concentrations in groundwater and indoor air. Median radon concentrations in groundwater samples and median radon concentrations in indoor air samples within the 16 geologic units were classified according to proposed and recommended regulatory limits to explore potential radon exposure from groundwater and indoor air. All of the geologic units, except for the Allegheny (Pa) and Glenshaw (Pcg) Formations in the Appalachian Plateaus Physiographic Province, had median radon concentrations greater than the proposed EPA MCL of 300 pCi/L, and the Peters Creek Schist (Xpc), which is in the Piedmont Physiographic Province, had a median radon concentration greater than the EPA proposed AMCL of 4,000 pCi/L. Median concentrations of radon in groundwater and indoor air were determined to differ significantly among the geologic units (Kruskal-Wallis test, significance probability, p<0.001), and Tukey’s test indicated that radon concentrations in groundwater and indoor air in the Peters Creek Schist (Xpc) were significantly higher than those in the other units. Also, the Peters Creek Schist (Xpc) was determined to be the area with highest potential of radon exposure from groundwater and indoor air and one of two units with the highest percentage of population assumed to be using domestic self-supplied water (81 percent), which puts the population at greater potential of exposure to radon from groundwater.

Potential radon exposure determined from classification of geologic units by median radon concentrations in groundwater and indoor air according to proposed and recommended regulatory limits is useful for drawing general conclusions about the presence, variation, and potential radon exposure in specific geologic units, but the associated data and maps have limitations. The aggregated indoor air radon data have spatial accuracy limitations owing to imprecision of geo-coded test locations. In addition, the associated data describing geologic units and the public water supplier’s service areas have spatial and interpretation accuracy limitations. As a result, data and maps associated with this report are not recommended for use in predicting individual concentrations at specific sites nor for use as a decision-making tool for property owners to decide whether to test for radon concentrations at specific locations. Instead, the data and maps are meant to promote awareness regarding potential radon exposure in Pennsylvania and to point out data gaps that exist throughout the State.”

Link to Study 

Water Testing Radon

Air Testing Radon

Radon Air Monitoring

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