Most people remember uranium from their high school chemistry class as being an element, but most homeowners aren’t aware of the ways it gets into drilled wells and into drinking water. The element uranium is a metallic gray and found naturally in rocks and soil. It is the result of volcanic activity, making it radioactive, which scientifically means that its atoms spontaneously break into new atoms, releasing energy in the process. It also has chemical toxicity which makes consuming it dangerous for the body. But even more dangerous is that it doesn’t have any taste, smell, or color, so many consumers have no idea it is present.
According to an article on suite101.com, uranium is present in larger quantities in certain types of rock. Some of these rocks include granite, shale, and sandstone. So wherever groundwater flows through these rock formations, the mineral can then dissolve into the water. Drilled wells that need underground water sources flowing through the bedrock are more likely to have higher, and sometimes unsafe, levels of uranium.
So what are the safe levels set forth for uranium in drinking water? Health Canada defines it as .02mg/L, and the World Health Organization has been working to determine the safe levels. In 2011, a provisional document has the amount at .03mg/L. And because uranium naturally occurring, those people with drilled wells are advised to get their well water tested. Uranium can also occur as a result of mining, industry, and agricultural fertilizers.
The health affects when consumed in large amounts are really quite alarming. According to the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment, the effects of uranium are caused only from consuming the drinking water, not through skin or air. Ingesting excessive amounts of uranium can lead to kidney damage. But the dangers don’t stop there. According to the online article, when the uranium breaks down, radon gas is produced. In homes, radon has a tendency to collect and increases the risk of lung cancer when inhaled. As previously mentioned, well water consumers are encouraged to test water. If the water test shows the presence of uranium or radon, water filtration systems can be the solution to a potentially harmful situation.