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Radionuclides in Public Drinking Water

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Radionuclides in Public Drinking Water
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This page discusses the processes used to keep our drinking water clean from unnecessary radionuclides. 

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Overview

In the past, drinking water suppliers used most of their resources treating contaminated source water.  Today, this treatment cost is greatly reduced through increased emphasis on protecting the water sources from ever becoming contaminated.  A source water protection program generally includes the following components:

While these programs are effective, protective measures are still taken at the plant that processes the water before it is distributed to the public.  The water is tested regularly and filters are in place to remove chemical and radiological contamination.

Drinking water with elevated levels of radium and uranium – which are found in virtually all rock, soil, and water – may cause cancer after several years. Drinking water with elevated concentrations of uranium may affect a person over a much shorter time period.

Radon is a radioactive gas. It occurs naturally and is produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It can also dissolve into our water supply. As you shower or use your water for other household tasks, the gas can be released from the water into the air.

When water treatment plants encounter radioactive contaminants, personnel evaluate the quantity and type of the material to determine if it may be discharged into the sanitary sewer system or if it requires disposal in off-site facilities licensed to receive and dispose of radioactive waste.

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Who is protecting you

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA sets limits for specific radioactive contaminants in public drinking water. Local water suppliers must follow these limits and inform citizens, through their annual drinking water reports, of the level of radon and other radionuclides in their water. The Agency has established programs to provide guidance to drinking water treatment plants and state regulatory agencies on implementing these limits.

The States

Most states have established drinking water standards that implement EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act, enforce those standards, and establish monitoring programs.

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What you can do to protect yourself

Get Involved: Read your public water system’s annual report card on how well they meet the EPA contaminant limits for drinking water.

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Resources

Introduction to the Clean Water Act
March 30, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Watershed Academy Web
This site gives an overview of the Clean Water Act through a series of slides and accompanying text.
Laws We Use: Clean Water Act
March 30, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This page provides links to information regarding the Clean Water Act, including links to information regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in protecting the Nation's surface waters from contamination and the public from exposure to radionuclides.
Radionuclides in Drinking Water
March 30, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This site provides basic information about radionuclides in drinking water and the Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water standards for radionuclides.
A Regulators’ Guide to the Management of Radioactive Residuals from Drinking Water Treatment Technologies (PDF) (81pp, 559Kb [about pdf format])
March 30, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This document provides insight into the various technologies and practices that are in use to manage radioactive drinking water wastes.
Safe Drinking Water Act
March 30, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This page contains links that will guide you through basic information on the Safe Drinking Water Act, including the law itself and regulations and guidance.
Alpha Radiation
March 30, 2012. Vermont Department of Health, Agency Health Services
This fact sheet provides basic information about alpha radiation and its presence in drinking water.

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