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Radionuclides in Private Wells

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This page provides information on ways to test and treat private wells for radionuclides in the water.

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Overview

Approximately 15% of Americans rely on private drinking water supplies. Unlike public drinking water systems, wells generally are not routinely inspected. Therefore, these households must take special precautions to ensure the safety and quality of their drinking water supply.

Remember
Testing your home is the only way to determine radionuclide 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.

If purification filters, storage tanks, and associated piping begin to collect radioactive wastes in elevated concentrations, these materials may require disposal in off-site facilities licensed to receive and dispose of radioactive waste.

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.

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Who is protecting you

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Although EPA regulates public water systems, it does not have the authority to regulate private drinking water wells.  However, under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA sets guidelines for radioactive contaminants that well owners can reference.

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

Test your well water for radiation contamination annually.

Radionuclides can be found in ground water using a gross alpha test.  A gross alpha test measures the amount of alpha radiation from all radionuclides that may be present in the water. If a high level of radioactivity is found, additional tests are needed to identify which radionuclides are present.

All naturally occurring radioactivity can be treated.

Radium and uranium can both be treated using reverse osmosis.

Radon can be removed from water by using one of two methods:

Filters for drinking water purification can concentrate radionuclides in elevated amounts. Contact your well or water treatment system supplier or serviceman to discuss periods between filter changes, and disposal of used filters.

Remember
Contact your local or state health department for testing and treatment information. exit EPA

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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.
Ground Water and Drinking Water
March 30, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ground Water & Drinking Water.
This page provides information on the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in protecting drinking water.
Private Drinking Water Wells
March 30, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This site discusses private drinking well issues like water safety, health risks and where can you go for additional information.
Commonly Encountered Radionuclides
March 30, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This page contains links to fact sheets on commonly encountered radionuclides like radon, radium and uranium.
Facts: Private Well Testing (PDF) (14 pp, 896.73Kb)[about pdf format] exit EPA
March 30, 2012. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.
This document offers information on contaminated private well water and lists how to reduce contaminants if they are discovered.
Radium in Drinking Water exit EPA
March 30, 2012. Illinois Department of Public Health.
This page provides an overview of radium and drinking water concerns regarding radium.
Radon and Drinking Water from Private Wells (PDF) (2pp, 98Kb)[about pdf format] exit EPA
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. [Accessed on March 30, 2012]
This document offers information on radon, including radon exposure and radon drinking water concerns.
Study Confirms Presence of Contaminants in Some New England Bedrock Groundwater, ID’s New Concerns, Determines Likely Locations
June 28, 2012. U.S. Geological Survey News Release
You can read a summary of the USGS report in this news release. The full report is available online.

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