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Radium in Public Water and Health

radium in public water

Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive metal that can exist in several forms. Radium is present at very low levels in rocks and soil and may strongly attach to those materials. Everyone is exposed to low levels of radium in the air, water, and food. EPA has set a drinking water limit of 5 picocuries per liter (5pCi/L) for radium-226 and radium-228 combined.

Exposure and Risk

Everyone is exposed to low levels of radium in the air, water, and food. Additionally,

  • Higher levels may be found in the air near industries that burn coal or other fuels.
  • It may be found at higher levels in drinking water from wells.
  • Miners, particularly miners of uranium and hard rock, are exposed to higher levels of radium.
  • It may also be found at radioactive waste disposal sites.

There is no clear evidence that long-term exposure to radium at the normal environmental level is likely to result in harmful health effects. However, exposure to higher levels of radium over a long period of time may result in harmful effects including anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, certain cancers (especially bone cancer), and death.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation have stated that radium is a known human carcinogen (cancer causing agent).

Prevention

Community Public Water Supplies are already being tested for radionuclides, and are required to provide that information each year to consumers in the annual Consumer Confidence Report. EPA strongly encourages people to learn more about their drinking water, and to support local efforts to protect and upgrade the supply of safe drinking water.