Abstract Title:

Plants as bio-monitors for Cs-137, Pu-238, Pu-239,240 and K-40 at the Savannah River Site.

Abstract Source:

J Environ Monit. 2011 Mar 16. Epub 2011 Mar 16. PMID: 21412545

Abstract Author(s):

Eric Frank Caldwell, Martine C Duff, Caitlin E Ferguson, Daniel P Coughlin

Article Affiliation:

Savannah River National Laboratory, Aiken, South Carolina, USA. [email protected]


The Savannah River Site was constructed in South Carolina to produce plutonium (Pu) in the 1950s. Discharges associated with these now-ceased operations have contaminated large areas within the site, particularly streams associated with reactor cooling basins. Evaluating the exposure risk of contamination to an ecosystem requires methodologies that can assess the bioavailability of contaminants. Plants, as primary producers, represent an important mode of transfer of contaminants from soils and sediments into the food chain. The objective of this study was to identify local area plants for their ability to act as bio-monitors of radionuclides. The concentrations of cesium-137 ((137)Cs), potassium-40 ((40)K), (238)Pu and (239,240)Pu in plants and their associated soils were determined usingγ and α spectrometry. The ratio of contamination concentration found in the plant relative to the soil was calculated to assess a concentration ratio (CR). The highest CR for (137)Cs was found in Pinus palustris needles (CR of 2.18). The correlation of soil and plant (137)Cs concentration was strong (0.76) and the R(2) (0.58) from the regression was significant (p = 0.006). This suggests the ability to predict the degree of (137)Cs contamination of a soil through analysis of the pine needles. The (238)Pu and (239,240)Pu concentrations were most elevated within the plant roots. Extremely highCR values were found in Sparganium americanum (bur-reed) roots with a value of 5.86 for (238)Pu and 5.66 for (239,240)Pu. The concentration of (40)K was measured as a known congener of (137)C. Comparing (40)K and (137)C concentrations in each plant revealed an inverse relationship for these radioisotopes. Correlating (40)K and (137)Cs was most effective in identifying plants that have a high affinity for (137)Cs uptake. The P. palustris and S. americanum proved to be particularly strong accumulators of all K congeners from the soil. Some species that were measured, warrant further investigation, are the carnivorous plant Utricularia inflata (bladderwort) and the emergent macrophyte Juncus effusus. For U. inflata, the levels of (137)Cs, (238)Pu, and (239,240)Pu (which were 3922, 8399, and 803 Bq kg(-1), respectively) in the leaves were extremely high. The highest (137)Cs concentration from the study was measured in the J. effusus root (5721 Bq kg(-1)).

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