[ RadSafe ] " Jordan's fossil water source has high radiationlevels "

Brennan, Mike (DOH) Mike.Brennan at DOH.WA.GOV
Tue Feb 24 18:43:37 CST 2009

What I get out of this is that this source has been mostly untapped
before now.  It could be an interesting problem getting rid of all the
radium.  A couple hundred pCi/l (or whatever) times billions of liters
per month leads to non-trivial levels of activity.  

I am surprised that Jordan doesn't have a place where they could use
solar heating to evaporate and water from a couple hundred feet down as
a heat sink as a way of producing potable water.

-----Original Message-----
From: radsafe-bounces at radlab.nl [mailto:radsafe-bounces at radlab.nl] On
Behalf Of Jaro
Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 3:27 PM
To: multiple cdn; RADSAFE
Subject: [ RadSafe ] " Jordan's fossil water source has high
radiationlevels "

Another Ramsar, Kerala, or Guarapari ?


Jordan's fossil water source has high radiation levels February 24th,
2009 in Space & Earth science / Environment

Ancient groundwater being tapped by Jordan, one of the 10 most
water-deprived nations in the world, has been found to contain twenty
times the radiation considered safe for drinking water in a new study by
an international team of researchers.

"The combined activities of 228 radium and 226 radium - the two
long-lived isotopes of radium - in the groundwater we tested are up to
2000 percent higher than international drinking standards," said Avner
Vengosh, associate professor of earth and ocean sciences in the Nicholas
School of the Environment at Duke University.

Making the water safe for long-term human consumption is possible, he
said, but it will require extra steps to reduce its radioactivity.
{{....so it was unsafe until now ? ....is there anyone left alive in
Jordan ? }}

Vengosh and his research team, made up of scientists from Jordan,
Palestine, Israel and the United States, published their findings Feb.
19 in a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science &

Jordan's annual water use exceeds the natural replenishment of its major
river, the Yarmouk, and its local aquifers that are becoming salinized
as a result of over-pumping.

In 2007, the Jordanian government announced plans for a $600-million
project to pump low-saline fossil groundwater from the Disi aquifer,
located along the nation's remote southern border with Saudi Arabia, and
pipe it 250 kilometers north to the capital, Amman, a city of 3.1
million people, and other population centers.

Fossil groundwater is a nonrenewable supply of water trapped underground
in aquifers. In recent years, policymakers in countries facing chronic
water shortages have increasingly viewed low-saline supplies of fossil
groundwater as an important potential source of water for human and
agricultural use.
Libya and Saudi Arabia, for example, have relied extensively on fossil
groundwater from Nubian sandstone aquifers similar to the Disi to meet
their water needs in recent decades.

Most fossil groundwater resources in North Africa and the Middle East
are characterized by high-quality water with low salinity. "The
assumption has been that unsafe radioactive levels occur primarily in
high-saline groundwater, so low-saline sources, such as water from a
Nubian sandstone aquifer, are relatively safe resources just waiting to
be tapped," Vengosh said.

To test that hypothesis, Vengosh and his colleagues investigated water
37 pumping wells in the Disi aquifer's Rum Group, where low-saline
groundwater is extracted from Cambro-Ordovician sandstone, and from
wells in the Khreim Group, where saltier water is extracted from an
aquifer containing larger amounts of clay minerals and oxides. All
samples were analyzed for major and trace elements and for four radium
isotopes. For comparative purposes, sandstone rocks from the Disi
aquifer, along with Nubian sandstone rocks from the nearby Negev Desert
in Israel, were also measured for radium.

"We found a lack of correlation between salinity and radioactivity,"
Vengosh said. "Instead, our findings suggest that an aquifer's
geological properties may be a much more significant factor."

Vengosh and his group hypothesize that an aquifer with a higher content
of clay minerals and oxides provides more adsorption sites for radium,
and this results in lower radionuclide levels in the water itself.
Sandstone aquifers, on the other hand, offer fewer adsorption sites,
and, as a result, generate radium-rich groundwater.

"Given that most of the aquifers in the region that contain fossil water
are composed of Nubian sandstone and are characterized by low-saline
groundwater, similar to that in the Disi aquifer, we suggest that
high-radioactive groundwater may also exist in these basins. This could
pose health risks for a large population," Vengosh said. Groundwater
from the Disi aquifer is already used for drinking water in parts of
Jordan and, more extensively, in Saudi Arabia, where it is known as the
Saq aquifer.

"Making groundwater from the Disi aquifer and similar sandstone basins
in the region safe for long-term human use will require a significant
reduction of radionuclide levels," Vengosh said.

Health officials could reduce radioactivity to safe levels by diluting
radium-rich water with low-radium water from other sources, he said, or
by treating it with ion exchange, reverse osmosis desalination or lime
softening. Each of these three treatment technologies does a good job of
removing radium, Vengosh noted, but each produces solid and liquid
residues that would have to be handled and disposed of as low-level
radioactive waste.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies radium as a
Group-A carcinogenic material, which means exposure to it could cause

More information: The paper is online at

Source: Duke University

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