A rapid method to determine 226Ra concentrations in Marcellus Shale produced waters using liquid scintillation counting

Moses A. Ajemigbitse, Fred S. Cannon, Nathaniel R. Warner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Concentrations of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) in Marcellus Shale produced water presents a challenge for effective management and treatment, because of the vast fluid volumes generated. With an increased emphasis on beneficial reuse and resource recovery from the produced waters, a rapid, yet reliable, method for quantifying radium in these produced waters is needed. The high total dissolved solids (TDS) concentration introduces difficulties when measuring 226Ra by recommended EPA methods that were specifically developed several decades ago for drinking water. While other techniques for measuring radium in these high-TDS fluids have since been developed, these newer techniques often require extensive and complicated pre-concentration steps; and they thus require extensive analytical chemistry skills, utilize hazardous chemicals like hydrofluoric acid, demand long holding times or measurement times, and require high sample volumes. We present a rapid method for 226Ra measurements in high-TDS produced waters by liquid scintillation counting, which has been corroborated herein by concurrent gamma spectrometry analyses. Samples were prepared for analysis by evaporating the fluid and re-suspending the evaporate with acidified distilled deionized water prior to liquid scintillation counting for 1 h. This protocol yielded radium recoveries ≥93%. Per this protocol, the alpha and beta spectra of 226Ra and its daughters were computationally separated by alpha-beta discrimination and spectrum deconvolution. The minimum detectable activities of 226Ra was 0.33 Bq/L (9.0 pCi/L) when the counting time was 60 min and the sample volume was 4 mL. Nine produced waters of varying TDS and radium concentrations from the Marcellus Shale Formation were analyzed by this method and compared with gamma spectroscopy; and these yielded comparable results with an R2 of 0.92. The reduced sample preparation steps, low cost, and rapid analysis position this as a well-suited protocol for field-appraisal and screening, when compared to comprehensive radiochemical analysis. We offer that for a given produced water region, routine and local liquid scintillation analyses can be compared and calibrated with infrequent gamma spec analyses, so as to yield a near-real time protocol for monitoring 226Ra levels during hydrofracturing operations. We present this as a pragmatic and efficient protocol for monitoring 226Ra when produced water samples host low levels of 228Ra—since the progeny of 228Ra can significantly confound the LSC analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number106300
JournalJournal of Environmental Radioactivity
StatePublished - Sep 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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