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What You Need to Know About Radioactive Water Contamination in the USA

July 26, 2022 4 min read

What You Need to Know About Radioactive Water Contamination in the USA

Many contaminants exist in water that we drink and use daily. One of the most common contaminants is radioactive material.

Radiation comes from several different sources, including nuclear power plants, medical devices, and even our food. You can also find it naturally in certain areas across the United States. Sometimes this radiation can get into your drinking water from natural causes or human-made incidents such as nuclear accidents.

But is there radioactive material in the United States tap water?

Yes, there are radioactive materials in the United States tap water. Nuclear power plants primarily source these radioactive materials in the United States tap water. Atomic energy makes up 20% of the electricity produced and 45% of all nuclear waste byproducts produced annually in the United States.

You can also find radioactive material in tap water from pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals that contain radionuclides (a form of heavy metal).

You might be worried about how these radioactive materials impact health risks, so we've put together this guide to explore what they are and why they're present!

What is Radiologically Contaminated Water?

Radiologically contaminated water is water that contains radioactive material. Radioactive contaminants are produced by nuclear power plants and are in the air, soil, and water around these plants.

When a person ingests or breathes in (inhales) radionuclides, they may be able to enter the body through the lungs or digestive system. Some radionuclides can also enter your body if you get them on your skin or your eyes.

What causes Radiologically Contaminated Water?

The earth is home to many naturally-occurring radioactive materials, including uranium and potassium. Even if you lived in a completely sealed room for your entire life, you would still get exposed to low radiation levels from these elements.

Radiation can also come from artificial sources like nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons, and medical procedures. While not all of these sources will lead to contamination in tap water (or other environmental contaminants), they contribute to it when they leak or release radioactive material into the environment due to accidents or malfunctions.

There have been many cases where nuclear power plants have leaked radioactive material into nearby rivers and aquifers—the most famous example being the Three Mile Island incident from 1979, which released 400 times more than was initially estimated by investigators at the time.

Spills from cooling towers as well can contaminate drinking water. Often used in conjunction with nuclear power plants, these towers need constant cooling so temperatures stay low enough for safe operation (otherwise, there may be explosions!). However, if something goes wrong with one's cooling system, such as when someone accidentally dumps chemicals down it, we could end up seeing some nasty consequences.

Plenty of cities in the USA have experienced some of the worst tap water contamination cases. They include;

Cape Cod Bay

Cape Cod Bay is the largest and deepest estuary in Massachusetts. The bay covers about 14,000 square miles, making it larger than Lake Michigan. Cape Cod Bay supports a thriving fishing industry and hosts numerous recreational activities such as swimming and boating.

The water surface of this bay has been contaminated with radioactive materials for decades since people built nuclear power plants near it (the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station is just 25 miles away).

With the owner of the Pilgrim Power Station wanting to get rid of the spent-fuel pool and reactor vessel, you should know what its effects will be if there is any spill of this contaminated water.

Brady, Texas

If you're wondering whether tap water is safe to drink, consider this: In recent years, the drinking water in a small Texas town called Brady has accumulated high levels of radioactive material.

The EPA says drinking water can be unsafe when levels of radium-226 and radium-228 exceed five pCi/L. But tests showed that the water in Brady had nine times higher levels — and it was after they reached out to their state representative that officials took action.

Colorado

When you compare the level of contamination that this water has, it is among the top 10 worst water systems with high radium levels. The groundwater in Colorado has been under a regulatory problem for more than 20 years.

Several companies discovered this condition by using water from wells with high natural radioactivity to cool their reactors and turbines.

Takeaway

In the wake of this ongoing water crisis, it is essential to take the necessary steps to ensure that you and your family drink the safest water possible. The best way to do this is by investing in Seychelle's water filters to help protect you from these radioactive contaminants.

Seychelle's filtration system can help filter out a wide range of chemicals and heavy metals that could be present in tap water. Contact us toinvest in a filter today. You will be glad you did when your family is healthy and safe from these dangerous materials.

FAQs

  1. How does radiation get into drinking water?

The potential sources of radioactive material in drinking water are natural and human-caused. Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) can enter the environment through erosion of rock formations, such as granite or shale, and from leaching from soil into groundwater. Additionally, NORM can enter the environment when radon gas escapes from underground deposits of uranium-bearing rocks such as granites or shales.

Human activities that result in increased amounts of NORM entering our water supplies include:

  • mining operations where radioactive materials are extracted
  • oil and gas extraction
  • manufacturing activities involving high energy use, such as uranium enrichment plants
  • disposal or storage facilities for hazardous waste
  • nuclear power plants
  • weapons production facilities
  • medical research labs that use radioactive isotopes to diagnose patients' conditions.
  1. Does the federal government regulate radiation in drinking water?

The rule, called the Radionuclides Rule, requires public water systems to monitor for certain radioactive elements in their drinking water. It also limits the amount of these elements present in treated water.

The EPA also sets enforceable standards for radionuclides, known or suspected human carcinogens. These standards help to protect people from any potential health risks associated with exposure over a lifetime of consuming the water—either through direct consumption or by eating fish that have consumed the radiation-contaminated water.