Newsflash: 170 Million U.S. residents drink radioactive tap water day by day.
No, this is not a joke. It’s a serious issue which we finally have to pay attention to, as the government fails to do so. In this post you will learn all you need to know about the dangers of radioactive elements in our drinking water, how they end up there, and what you can do to protect the health of your family.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) counted a total of 6 different radioactive elements that can most commonly be found in U.S. tap water. These are:
“By far the most widespread are two isotopes of radium known as radium-226 and radium-228, which contaminate tap water in every state.” (Source)
Between the years 2010 and 2015, radium was reportedly found in concentrations exceeding federal drinking water standards and therefore legal limits in more than 150 public water systems serving a total of 276,000 Americans in 27 different states all across the country.
What’s even worse: These federal legal limits are based on outdated research and primarily designed for cost and feasibility of removing specific contaminants, rather than focusing on what’s necessary in order to fully protect human health.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in charge of tap water safety in our country, allows a maximum of 5 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) of combined radium-226 and radium-228. The federal legal limit for uranium is 30 parts per billion or 20 pCi/L.
FYI: Picocuries per liter is a measure of radioactivity in water.
The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment – these guys actually rely on up-to-date scientific research – set the public health goal for radium-226 to 0.019 pCi/L and for radium-228 to 0.05 pCi/L. This is more than 72 lowers than the current federal standard. The health goal for uranium is 0.43 pCi/L.
At these concentrations, 1 million people could drink contaminated water every single day for 70 years straight and only a single person would be expected to develop cancer as a result of that exposure.
Speaking of cancer, here are the 6 radioactive elements from above and the primary health risks they are associated with:
Radioactive ElementPrimary Health RiskHealth GoalFederal StandardCancer Risk at Legal Limit
|Radioactive Element||Primary Health Risk||Health Goal||Federal Standard||Cancer Risk at Legal Limit|
|Radium-226||Bone Cancer + Other Cancers||0.019 pCi/L||5 pCi/L (Radium-226 & Radium-228 Combined)||7 Cases Per 100,000 People|
|Radium-228||Bone Cancer + Other Cancers||0.05 pCi/L||5 pCi/L (Radium-226 & Radium-228 Combined)||7 Cases Per 100,000 People|
|Radon||Lung Cancer (Inhalation)||1.5 pCi/L||300 pCi/L (Advisory Level, No Established Requirement)|
|Uranium||Kidney Damage, Cancer||0.43 pCi/L||30 ppb||4.6 Cases Per 100,000 People|
|Tritium||Cancer||400 pCi/L||20,000 pCi/L||5 Cases Per 100,000 People|
|Strontium-90||Bone Cancer, Leukemia||0.35 pCi/L||8 pCi/L||2 Cases Per 100,000 People|
As you can see, these substances are NOT to be taken lightly. All of them are classified as carcinogenic by the EPA. And although the statistical cancer risk decreases with lower doses of ionizing radiation, a small probability always remains.
In addition, ionizing radiation also affects developing fetus. At high dosages – higher than typically found in our tap waters – radiation can impair fetal growth, cause birth defects and damage brain development, says the EWG.
On top of that, latest research has shown that radiation can cause damage to both the human nervous system and immune system.
EWG’s Tap Water Database is a collection of water quality reports for samples of treated tap water taken from public supply systems in all 50 states between 2010 and 2015.
It shows that California is ranking #1 as the state with the most people served with water contaminated with radium-226 & 288 combined. How many? 25,814,100. Texas is the state with the most water utilities affected: 3,478.
How can you find out if you were/are affected, too? The easiest way is to visit this page and enter your zip code and hit ‘GO’.
Then choose your utility from the list.
If you scroll down a bit, you can see the contaminants detected above health guidelines and also all other contaminants in amounts deemed safe.
Looks like the people receiving water from the New York City System are lucky – zero radioactive elements detected above guidelines.
For combined radium-226 and 288 contamination in particular, you can also use this interactive map titled “Radium Contamination in Public Water Supplies Nationwide” that the EWG published earlier this year.
The map displays data on radium contamination for 1,850 community water systems serving more than 10,000 people as well as 1,620 systems serving between 3,301 and 10,000 people.
Beige dots indicate locations with radium levels less than 1 pCi/L. Orange dots cover the range between 1.0 and 4.99 pCi/L. Levels above 5 pCi/L are marked in red. Dot size does not indicate cases of more severe contamination, but larger system size. Large dots represent systems serving more than 100,000 customers. Small ones are for utilities with less than 100,000 customers.
Please note: The map does not include supply systems without reported radium content, so if you can’t find your water utility, there’s no reason to worry.
To use the map, simply type your address into the search bar in the top right corner. Then you can click on the dot for your supply system.
For a change, it’s not entirely our fault that radioactive elements end up in our water systems. They naturally occur in rock and soil deposits as part of the earth’s crust and slowly leech into the groundwater from where they continue their journey into our supply systems.
The trickling effect, however, can be higher in areas where gas and oil drilling, fracking, or (uranium) mining unearth these elements.
What can you do to protect your family and yourself from dangerous radioactive elements?
Radioactive tap water is a huge problem. However, the solution is quite simple: Check your water quality report, have you water tested if need be, and use a water filter system accordingly. But of course the most important step is to acknowledge the problem in the first place…
Gene has been with BOS since the very beginning. She is head of content creation and has fully immersed herself into the home water treatment industry only to become an expert herself. Outside of BOS, Gene loves to read books on philosophy & social issues, making music, and hiking.