Does Your Water Contain an Unsafe Level of Radium?


Today, I’ll continue my review of some of the more common drinking water contaminants with a look at Radium. I’ll touch on how Radium can affect water quality and I’ll also share information on things you can do to minimize your family’s exposure to the contaminant.

Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive metal. It typically gets into our drinking water supply through the erosion of natural deposits. Consuming water containing Radium at levels in excess of 0.00 pCi/L can cause adverse health effects.

Fortunately, Radium is one of the drinking water contaminants regulated by the EPA. This means public water companies are required to monitor their water supply for Radium and work to ensure the water they provide their customers does not exceed the legal limit for the contaminant. However, even with this standard in place, it’s still possible for your tap water to contain excessive amounts of Radium. Using data from the EPA, I estimated as many as 326 thousand Americans were exposed to water with potentially unsafe Radium levels at least once in 2019.

How Radium Can Affect Water Quality and Your Health

In regions where Radium exists in nature, the contaminant can be found occurring naturally in our water supply.

What is Radium, exactly? Radium is a radioactive metal formed when Uranium and Thorium decay or break down. Found at very low levels in rocks, coal, soil, plants, and food, Radium constantly emits radiation into the surrounding environment.

How can drinking water that contains Radium affect your health? If you consume water that contains elevated levels of Radium over many years, you may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

At what level can Radium cause health problems? Radium is known to cause adverse health effects when its concentration in drinking water is above 0 pCi/L.

In an effort to protect our health, the EPA established legally enforceable standards to limit the amount of Radium in our drinking water. Public water companies are required to ensure the concentration of Radium in the water they provide their customers is kept at or below 5 pCi/L.

Given available treatment technology, water utility companies should be able to provide drinking water that meets this quality standard. However, more than 110 public water systems violated the regulatory limit for Radium in 2019.

Does Your Drinking Water Contain a Harmful Amount of Radium?

Public water companies are required to provide customers with an annual water quality report, also known as a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). Inside this report, you’ll find important information about your drinking water, including where it comes from, and whether it tested positive for any regulated contaminants like Radium.

Most Populated Areas with Violations for Radium in 2019

Town/
Water System
Population
Served
Waukesha, WI
Waukesha Water Utility
70,718
Maxton, NC
Robeson County Water System
64,295
Beloit, WI
Beloit, City of
37,110
Brookfield, WI
Brookfield Water Utility
29,070
Winona, MN
Winona
27,782

If you’re curious to know how much Radium was found in your city’s drinking water, grab a copy of the latest CCR and look for the section of the report that covers “Radionuclides.” Here, you’ll find test results for Radium as well as other contaminants like Uranium and Alpha Particles.

How to Interpret Your Water Quality Report

When looking at your water quality report, you can expect to see test results for Radium reported in Picocuries per Liter (pCi/L), which is a measure of radioactivity.

Below is an example of what you might see on your annual water quality report if Radium is detected in your town’s drinking water:


Example Water Quality Report

Contaminant
(Units)
MCLG (1)MCL (2)Average
Detected/
Your Water
Range
Detected
Violation
(Y/N)
Radium
(pCi/L)
0574-10Y

Definitions from the EPA:
1. Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) – The level of a contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to health. MCLGs allow for a margin of safety and are non-enforceable public health goals.
2. Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) – The highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water. MCLs are set as close to MCLGs as feasible using the best available treatment technology and taking cost into consideration. MCLs are enforceable standards.


In this example, water samples contained an average of 7 pCi/L of Radium, exceeding both the public health goal level (MCLG) and the legal limit (MCL) for the contaminant.

Will You Be Notified If Your Water Contains an Unsafe Level of Radium?

In addition to providing you with an annual quality report, your water company is required by the EPA to notify you if they identify a problem with your drinking water.

If your water company delivers water that could negatively impact your health, they have to notify you of the situation within the timeframe set by the EPA. Depending on the severity of the issue, the company is given 24 hours to 30 days to provide this notice.

If your city’s water exceeds the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for Radium, your water company must notify you within 30 days of the violation. Typically, you will receive this notice via the media or through the mail.

What Can You Do to Remove Radium from Your Tap Water?

Fortunately, if you want to limit your family’s exposure to Radium, there are several affordable yet effective options for removing the contaminant from your tap water.

But how can you tell which products work and which ones don’t? Well, if you want peace of mind, I recommend choosing a water treatment product that is certified by NSF International (NSF) to be effective at removing Radium from water.

What does the NSF certification represent? When a product is NSF certified to remove Radium, you can rest assured that:

  • the manufacturer’s contaminant reduction claims have been verified;
  • the system was tested to confirm it adds nothing harmful to the water;
  • the system has been found to be structurally sound;
  • the product’s advertising, literature, and labeling have all been verified as accurate;
  • and there is testing in place to determine whether the quality of the product is consistent over time.

Do all NSF certified water filters work against Radium? Water treatment devices can earn certification for meeting one or more NSF standards or protocols. But only certain NSF certified products, like Reverse Osmosis devices that meet NSF standard NSF/ANSI 58 for Radium, are certified to reduce the amount of the Radium in your water.

One such product, OptimH2O Reverse Osmosis + Claryum by Aquasana, is NSF certified to remove up to 80% of the Radium found in your tap water. This device requires installation underneath your sink, so the manufacturer recommends enlisting the help of a professional to make sure it gets done right.

3 steps for selecting the right water treatment system for your family:

  1. Review your area’s annual water quality report to find out what’s in your drinking water.
  2. Determine which contaminants you’d like to reduce from your water.
  3. Select a water treatment product that is NSF certified to work effectively against those contaminants you’d like to reduce from your tap water.

Just remember, no matter which water treatment product you choose, you need to make sure to perform the routine maintenance suggested by the manufacturer. This will help keep the device in proper working order and limit your family’s exposure to Radium.


Sources

Paul

I’ve moved several times over the years, so I know just how stressful it can be to relocate. I want to help put your mind at ease. That’s why I research and write about all the things I think you should consider when moving to a new town.

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