Naturally-Occurring Radium In Drinking Water
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Radium is a radioactive element that occurs naturally in many rocks, soils, and groundwaters. Radium can dissolve in water and may be found at unsafe levels in certain areas of the country including South Carolina. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates two types of radium; Radium 226 and Radium 228, which when added together are known as combined radium.
The EPA has set a limit for combined radium in drinking water at 5 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) as being protective of human health. Long-term exposure to radium increases the risk of developing certain cancers. These effects usually take years to develop.
This map shows the areas of South Carolina where unsafe levels of radium have been found. The upper coastal plain is the region of greatest risk, however radium at unsafe levels can be found elsewhere, especially in the Piedmont and the York County area.
If you have a home well and would like to know if your water has an unsafe level of radium, you must have your water tested. Call DHEC’s Office of Lab Certification (803) 896-0970 for a current list of certified labs.
If your water has unsafe levels of radium, it can be treated using a reverse osmosis unit or an ion exchange unit. A simple under-the-counter unit that feeds one tap at the kitchen sink for drinking and cooking water is often all that is needed. Many home appliance stores sell this type of unit. The National Sanitation Foundation International certifies certain treatment units for removing radium: www.nsf.org. Another option is using bottled water for drinking and cooking. Water with radium is safe to use for irrigation, laundry, and bathing.
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