Sometimes news coverage does not quite cover the extent of some water quality issues in the United States. One water quality problem affecting a lot more Americans that many of us suspect is a little radioactive devil named Radium.
Why should we CARE about radium in our drinking water?
Radium emits energy in two ways: Alpha particles and gamma rays. Radium in drinking water poses a health hazard because because its energy emissions (radiation) may cause cancer, kidney damage, and birth defects.
Plus, as radium decays it forms radon particles which pose a whole other health risk according to the National Academy of Science. Radon particles in water and the air may cause health problems. Strong evidence exists to support the notion that prolonged or long-term exposure to radon in the air is the second leading cause of lung cancer -- behind cigarette smoke.
So... How can I determine if my water may contain radium?
A handy interactive map on the Environmental Working Group web site gives a general look at some of the known radium hot spots in the United States. You will find a link to that map below:
- https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2018-radium/ - Map of known radium in drinking water
Keep in mind that map does NOT show all the possible places where radium may have crept into drinking water so if still not feeling secure about the quality and/or safety of your drinking water, you may want to consider having your water tested by a qualified water testing lab.
Does it cost a fortune to test for radium in drinking water?
If you want to test for radium specifically, then yes, testing does have a bit of a price tag. The company we work with ( National Testing Laboratories) offers the Deluxe Radiological Water Testing Package which detects the following:
- Uranium - minimum detection level of .001 mg/L
- Gross Alpha - minimum detection level of 3.000 pCi/L
- Gross Beta - minimum detection level of 4.000 pCi/L
- Radon 222 - minimum detection level of 50 pCi/L
- Radium 226 - minimum detection level of 1.0 pCi/L
- Radium 228 - minimum detection level of 1.0 pCi/L
OK, so testing can tell me if radium lurks in my water, but how much radium does it take to make my water unsafe?
Quite frankly, most people believe ANY radium or radioactive materials pose a problem on some level and do not want them in their water. With that said, though, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) set a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for radium in public water supplies at 5 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L).
MCl's represent the threshold at which public water suppliers must notify their customers that the water supplied contains more of a contaminant than Federal regulations allow. The water suppliers must then take action to get the offending drinking water contaminant's level back down below the MCL.
Note: The EPA sets MCL's at levels typically far below where the concentrations of contaminants would pose serious risks to human health. MCL's serve as more as warning indicators rather than red flags implying immediate danger.
Water professionals suggest private well owners use the same MCL's as public water systems when evaluating their drinking water and determining if/when to address problems with water quality.
What can I do if testing finds radium in my water?
Thankfully folks unlucky enough to find radium in their drinking water have several options available to them when it comes to reducing radium levels in their water. Ion exchange water softening and reverse osmosis work very well and can reduce radium levels in drinking water by as much as 90%.
Water softeners offer the added benefit of also removing calcium and magnesium hardness (if present in the water) but have the drawback of adding sodium to the water that it treats. Granted not a noticeable amount typically, but those on low sodium diets should consult with a physician before having a water softening system installed.
Reverse osmosis water filtration systems offers the added benefit of reducing levels of an enormously long list of potentially harmful drinking water contaminants and do not add sodium to treated water. They do have a slight drawback of producing slightly flat tasting water that lacks beneficial minerals such as calcium and magnesium, but using a simple remineralizing cartridge after the RO system normally corrects the water's chemistry and taste.