New NATA accredited radiation testing capabilites

The word 'radiation' might make you think of apocalyptic Hollywood films, but there’s no need to don a hazmat suit or hide in your bunker, because the Australian Water Quality Centre (AWQC) team has us covered.

AWQC recently attained a much coveted National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accreditation for the testing and analysis of radiation in waters, sediments and sludges, and now provide this valuable service to our business and other utilities and organisations around the country.

Sources of radiation in water occur naturally as concentrations of radioactive materials are absorbed by groundwater as it moves through soil. It can also occur through contamination from man-made activities such as the concentration of naturally radioactive materials during mining or the use of radioactive materials in industrial processes.

For these reasons, the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) recommend that drinking water and source water supplies are to be routinely monitored for radioactivity. Recommended limits to radiation levels in water have been set and if exceeded, would result in actions being taken to reduce radiation exposure and health risk.

AWQC performs radiological screening tests on our water sources at 2 or 5 yearly intervals depending on historical results.

While you needn’t be too concerned about the risk, as a very low proportion of our total exposure to radiation comes from water, it is important that a range of waters are tested and risk assessed for radioactivity. What’s to say that water is safe for use if it hasn’t been tested for gross alpha, gross beta and radon 222 radioactivity?

These are questions that the radiation team of Supervisor Metals and Physical Dzung Bui, Chemist Foyjunness Foyjunnessa and Technical Officer Chemistry Andrew Kay asked and sought to answer, after they identified a gap in the testing methods recommended in the ADWG.

When Dzung and his team identified that radon 222 would not be detected by the recommended screening process because it’s a gas, they then included testing for radon 222 in their screening process.

They also identified that because the ADWG's focus falls on testing of drinking water used for human consumption, it does not include radiation testing of other waters that could ultimately pose a risk to human health namely, drinking water used by livestock, water used for agricultural irrigation, and recreational purposes.

The guidelines for gross alpha, gross beta and radon 222 for a range of waters are described below:

Gross Alpha
Gross Beta
Radon 222
 Screening value (Bq1-1)  
Drinking water - human
0.5 Bq/L0.5 Bq/L<100 Bq/L
Drinking water – livestock
0.5 Bq/L0.5 Bq/L<100 Bq/L
0.5 Bq/L0.5 Bq/L 
0.1 Bq/L0.1 Bq/L 

Senior Manager Laboratory Services Karen Simpson said she was delighted that AWQC had attained an additional NATA Accreditation and is excited about the prospect of providing radiation testing services nation-wide.

“I am thrilled with Dzung and his team’s achievement in their development of new radiation testing methods,” Karen said.

“As a result, we can now provide this service to customers across the country with fast turnaround times, high sensitivity with lower limits of detection, rapid response services for health-related incidents, and local expertise to assist with technical enquiries."

Manager Chemistry Services Kerrie Jooste said she is excited to see this testing gain NATA accreditation.

"This signals the start of a new testing stream for AWQC, we can now offer high quality testing coupled with local knowledge and expertise," Kerrie said.

“Dzung, Foyjunnessa and Andrew have put a lot of work into turning this concept into a NATA accredited testing suite which is a fantastic achievement for themselves, the AWQC and our customers.”

The AWQC is dedicated to ensuring and responding to the provision of water and wastewater services for communities in Australia and across the world.

Radiation testing image

Below: Dzung Bui, Andrew Kay and Foyjunnessa Foyjunnessa with Project Consultant John Waters