What is “Natural” Uranium? Is There Uranium in My Well Water?
Uranium occurs naturally in some Western Upper Peninsula bedrock and groundwater; therefore wells are susceptible to contamination. Wells with high levels of uranium have been found in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw, Gogebic and Ontonagon Counties. The amount of uranium in bedrock and well water will vary greatly from place to place and without testing, it is not possible to determine if the water is safe for drinking.
How Can Uranium Affect My Health?
The US EPA sets the standards for public drinking water. These standards are known as the Safe Drinking Water Limits. The limits for many chemicals and contaminants are health-based limits calculated by assuming that a person drinks two liters of water a day for 70 years. The safe limits are known as Maximum Contamination Limits or MCL’s. EPA considers water above the MCL as being unsafe. The MCL for uranium in public drinking water is 30 micrograms per liter (30 ug/L). The MDEQ Drinking Water Lab reports the same MCL as 0.03 milligrams per liter (0.03 mg/L). The MCL for uranium was established because of its toxicity as a heavy metal which may result in kidney damage over time. There may also be a small increase in cancer risk over the course of a lifetime. The EPA has estimated that the additional lifetime cancer risk associated with drinking water that contains 30 ug/L (the MCL for uranium) is about 1 person in 10,000 who drinks two liters of uranium-contaminated water a day for 70 years. Bathing and showering with water that contains uranium is not a health concern.
How Can I Make Sure That My Well Water Safe For Drinking?
Uranium testing should be your first step. Test kits are available at each of the Western UP Health Department offices. Laboratory fees are $18 plus postage. If you do have uranium at a concentration greater than the EPA standard of 30 micrograms per liter (or 0.03 mg/L), the Western UP Health Department recommends that you install a “point of use” reverse osmosis system in your home.
Why Should I Buy a “Point of Use” Reverse Osmosis System ?
“Point of use” reverse osmosis (RO) treatment will remove many different contaminants from your drinking water, including uranium and radium. The World Health Organization reports that reverse osmosis treatment will remove 90-99 percent of uranium. Point of use RO systems are available from a variety of different sources, and WUPHD recommends that you purchase a unit which is “NSF certified for radium 226/228 reduction”. (NSF does not offer a uranium certification.) For more information, go to the NSF website.
A reverse osmosis system typically costs around $300 and you can save money by doing the installation yourself. A point of use RO system will typically produce about 7 to 14 gallons a day of drinkable water. This amount of production should meet the cooking and drinking needs of a typical household. To fix a uranium or radium problem, it is necessary only to treat the water you drink because uranium gets into the body through ingestion. It is safe to take baths using untreated water because uranium or radium is not absorbed through your skin.
Photo shows an installed undersink reverse osmosis system.