Radioiodine concentrated in a wetland. Academic Article uri icon


  • Most subsurface environmental radioactivity contamination is expected to eventually resurface in riparian zones, or wetlands. There are a number of extremely sharp biogeochemical interfaces in wetlands that could alter radionuclide speciation and promote accumulation. The objective of this study was to determine if a wetland concentrated (129)I emanating from a former waste disposal basin located on the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, USA. Additionally, studies were conducted to evaluate the role of sediment organic matter in immobilizing the radioiodine. Groundwater samples were collected along a 0.7-km transect away from the seepage basin and in the downstream wetlands. The samples were analyzed for (129)I speciation (iodide (I(-)), iodate (IO3(-)), and organo-I). Groundwater (129)I concentrations in many locations in the wetlands (as high as 59.9BqL(-1)(129)I) were greatly elevated with respect to the source term (5.9BqL(-1)(129)I). (129)I concentration profiles in sediment cores were closely correlated to organic matter concentrations (r(2)=0.992; n=5). While the sediment organic matter promoted the uptake of (129)I to the wetland sediment, it also promoted the formation of a soluble organic fraction: 74% of the wetland groundwater (129)I could pass through a 1kDa (<1nm) membrane and only 26% of the (129)I was colloidal. Of that fraction that could pass through a 1kDa membrane, 39% of the (129)I was organo-I. Therefore, while wetlands may be highly effective at immobilizing aqueous (129)I, they may also promote the formation of a low-molecular-weight organic species that does not partition to sediments. This study provides a rare example of radioactivity concentrations increasing rather than decreasing as it migrates from a point source and brings into question assumptions in risk models regarding continuous dilution of released contaminants.

published proceedings

  • J Environ Radioact

author list (cited authors)

  • Kaplan, D. I., Zhang, S., Roberts, K. A., Schwehr, K., Xu, C., Creeley, D., ... Santschi, P. H.

citation count

  • 26

publication date

  • May 2014