Potential Source Apportionment and Meteorological Conditions Involved in Airborne 131 I Detections in January/February 2017 in Europe

Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Aug 7;52(15):8488-8500. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.8b01810. Epub 2018 Jul 23.


Traces of particulate radioactive iodine (131I) were detected in the European atmosphere in January/February 2017. Concentrations of this nuclear fission product were very low, ranging 0.1 to 10 μBq m-3 except at one location in western Russia where they reached up to several mBq m-3. Detections have been reported continuously over an 8-week period by about 30 monitoring stations. We examine possible emission source apportionments and rank them considering their expected contribution in terms of orders of magnitude from typical routine releases: radiopharmaceutical production units > sewage sludge incinerators > nuclear power plants > spontaneous fission of uranium in soil. Inverse modeling simulations indicate that the widespread detections of 131I resulted from the combination of multiple source releases. Among them, those from radiopharmaceutical production units remain the most likely. One of them is located in Western Russia and its estimated source term complies with authorized limits. Other existing sources related to 131I use (medical purposes or sewage sludge incineration) can explain detections on a rather local scale. As an enhancing factor, the prevailing wintertime meteorological situations marked by strong temperature inversions led to poor dispersion conditions that resulted in higher concentrations exceeding usual detection limits in use within the informal Ring of Five (Ro5) monitoring network.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Radioactive*
  • Europe
  • Humans
  • Iodine Radioisotopes
  • Russia
  • Thyroid Neoplasms*


  • Air Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Iodine Radioisotopes