Ground water contamination with (238)U, (234)U, (235)U, (226)Ra and (210)Pb from past uranium mining: cove wash, Arizona

Environ Geochem Health. 2014 Jun;36(3):477-87. doi: 10.1007/s10653-013-9575-2. Epub 2013 Oct 18.


The objectives of the study are to present a critical review of the (238)U, (234)U, (235)U, (226)Ra and (210)Pb levels in water samples from the EPA studies (U.S. EPA in Abandoned uranium mines and the Navajo Nation: Red Valley chapter screening assessment report. Region 9 Superfund Program, San Francisco, 2004, Abandoned uranium mines and the Navajo Nation: Northern aum region screening assessment report. Region 9 Superfund Program, San Francisco, 2006, Health and environmental impacts of uranium contamination, 5-year plan. Region 9 Superfund Program, San Franciso, 2008) and the dose assessment for the population due to ingestion of water containing (238)U and (234)U. The water quality data were taken from Sect. "Data analysis" of the published report, titled Abandoned Uranium Mines Project Arizona, New Mexico, Utah-Navajo Lands 1994-2000, Project Atlas. Total uranium concentration was above the maximum concentration level for drinking water (7.410-1 Bq/L) in 19 % of the water samples, while (238)U and (234)U concentrations were above in 14 and 17 % of the water samples, respectively. (226)Ra and (210)Pb concentrations in water samples were in the range of 3.7 × 10(-1) to 5.55 × 102 Bq/L and 1.11 to 4.33 × 102 Bq/L, respectively. For only two samples, the (226)Ra concentrations exceeded the MCL for total Ra for drinking water (0.185 Bq/L). However, the (210)Pb/(226)Ra ratios varied from 0.11 to 47.00, and ratios above 1.00 were observed in 71 % of the samples. Secular equilibrium of the natural uranium series was not observed in the data record for most of the water samples. Moreover, the (235)U/(total)U mass ratios ranged from 0.06 to 5.9 %, and the natural mass ratio of (235)U to (total)U (0.72 %) was observed in only 16 % of the water samples, ratios above or below the natural ratio could not be explained based on data reported by U.S. EPA. In addition, statistical evaluations showed no correlations among the distribution of the radionuclide concentrations in the majority of the water samples, indicating more than one source of contamination could contribute to the sampled sources. The effective doses due to ingestion of the minimum uranium concentrations in water samples exceed the average dose considering inhalation and ingestion of regular diet for other populations around the world (1 μSv/year). The maximum doses due to ingestion of (238)U or (234)U were above the international limit for effective dose for members of the public (1 mSv/year), except for inhabitants of two chapters. The highest effective dose was estimated for inhabitants of Cove, and it was almost 20 times the international limit for members of the public. These results indicate that ingestion of water from some of the sampled sources poses health risks.

MeSH terms

  • Arizona
  • Groundwater / chemistry*
  • Lead Radioisotopes / analysis*
  • Mining*
  • Radium / analysis*
  • United States
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • Uranium / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive / analysis*


  • Lead Radioisotopes
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Uranium
  • Radium