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, 39 (10), 3563-70

Tracking Sources of Unsaturated Zone and Groundwater Nitrate Contamination Using Nitrogen and Oxygen Stable Isotopes at the Hanford Site, Washington

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Tracking Sources of Unsaturated Zone and Groundwater Nitrate Contamination Using Nitrogen and Oxygen Stable Isotopes at the Hanford Site, Washington

Michael J Singleton et al. Environ Sci Technol.

Abstract

The nitrogen and oxygen isotopic compositions of nitrate in pore water extracts from unsaturated zone (UZ) core samples and groundwater samples indicate at least four potential sources of nitrate in groundwaters at the U.S. DOE Hanford Site in south-central Washington. Natural sources of nitrate identified include microbially produced nitrate from the soil column (delta15N of 4 - 8 per thousand, delta18O of -9 to 2 per thousand) and nitrate in buried caliche layers (delta15N of 0-8 per thousand, delta 18O of -6to 42 per thousand). Isotopically distinctindustrial sources of nitrate include nitric acid in low-level disposal waters (delta15N approximately per thousand, delta 18O approximately 23%o) per thousandnd co-contaminant nitrate in high-level radioactive waste from plutonium processing (6'5delta1of 8-33 % o, per thousand18delta oO -9 to 7%0). per thousandThe isotopic compositions of nitrate from 97 groundwater wells with concentrations up to 1290 mg/L NO3- have been analyzed. Stable isotope analyses from this study site, which has natural and industrial nitrate sources, provide a tool to distinguish nitrate sources in an unconfined aquiferwhere concentrations alone do not. These data indicate that the most common sources of high nitrate concentrations in groundwater at Hanford are nitric acid and natural nitrate flushed out of the UZ during disposal of low-level wastewater. Nitrate associated with high-level radioactive UZ contamination does not appear to be a major source of groundwater nitrate at this time.

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