delware environmental institute

Sediment sleuthing: Radioactive medicine being tracked through rivers

Sediment sleuthing:  Radioactive medicine being tracked through rivers

A University of Delaware oceanographer has stumbled upon an unusual aid for studying local waterways: radioactive iodine. Trace amounts of the contaminant, which is used in medical treatments, are entering waterways via wastewater treatment systems and providing a new way to track where and how substances travel through rivers to the ocean.

“This is a really interesting convergence of medicine, public health and environmental science,” said Christopher Sommerfield, associate professor of oceanography in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

Sommerfield found small quantities of radioactive iodine, also called radioiodine or I-131, by accident while sampling the Delaware River, the main source of freshwater to Delaware Bay. The amounts were at low concentrations that do not pose a threat to humans or the environment, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).