Is Your Tap Water Full of Cancer-Causing Radium? (Test Results Here)

 

Feeling Thirsty?

Before you pour yourself a glass of water, you might want to take a closer look at a new map released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that pinpoints the locations in the United States where drinking water contains high levels of radium, a naturally-occurring radioactive element that’s also a known carcinogen.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit advocacy organization in Washington D.C. that focuses on environmental issues and public health.

Does your tap water contain the radioactive element radium?

You might be surprised to hear that tap water for more than 170 million Americans contains the compound.

As you can see, radium contamination can be found all over the U.S. according to the EWG’s data. The group analyzed test results from public water systems across the country from 2010 to 2015 and found that drinking water for more than 170 million Americans may contain levels of radium deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards.

 

Is there radium in your water? This map, which can be accessed on the EWG website, can answer that question. (Photo: EWG)

 

The current federal standard for radium in the U.S. is no more than 5 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) for the combined amounts of the two most common isotopes of radium found in water, radium-226 and radium-228.

Yet some facilities on the map reported radium levels well in excess of this amount, such as Andover, Minnesota, with 7.143 pCi/L; Brady, Texas with 9.249 pCi/L; or the Waukesha Water Utility near Milwaukee with 10.683 pCi/L.

 

Why is Radium a Problem?

 

Radium can’t be seen, tasted or smelled in drinking water.

 

 

What is Radium?

 

 

In the natural environment, radium is found at low levels in soil, water, rocks, coal, plants and food.

But radium also happens to be radioactive, so even low-level exposure could increase your risk for cancer, as radium is a known carcinogen.

“It has been associated with increases in bone cancer. So exposure to radium… even low levels, may increase the risk of cancer development,” said Alexis Temkin, toxicologist with the EWG.

 

A Tragic History of Radium

Radium-226 is a highly radioactive chemical element. First discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie, it’s most common application was as luminescent paint in watches, switches, and dials.

The most famous example of the chemical’s use comes from a New Jersey factory in 1917 when young female factory workers were employed to paint watch dials with radium.

 

The Radium Girls

 

The ‘Radium Girls’ worked with glowing paint made with radium.

 

In 1917, scores of patriotic young girls counted themselves lucky to have landed war work at a large warehouse complex in Orange, New Jersey.

The pay was fantastic – roughly three times the average working girls’ wage – and the work was light. Literally, the work was light as the main job the young ladies were given was to apply glowing paint to the faces of clocks, instrument gauges, and wristwatches for the United States Radium Company.

Once a thin layer of white paint, impregnated with the newly discovered element radium, was layered onto the dials, their hands naturally glowed and made them easier to read at night or in a dark trench in Flanders.

 

Without exception, the “radium girls” were told the paint was safe to handle, and so virtually no precautions were taken while they handled and even ingested countless doses of radioactive poison.

 

Using a New Technology

The radium-infused paint was a new invention in 1917. Though Pierre and Marie Curie had first identified the element in 1898, it wasn’t until 1910 that Marie successfully isolated a sample of it to work with.

 

Marie Curie Discovered the Danger of Radium

Marie gave herself several unpleasant burns improperly handling radium. Pierre once said he couldn’t bear the thought of sharing a room with even a kilogram of the stuff because he was afraid it would blind him and burn off his skin.

The Curies were working with large quantities of pure radium. The conventional wisdom at the time, however, was that a little bit of the stuff was good for human health. Throughout the early 20th century, hundreds of thousands of people drank radium-infused tonic water, brushed their teeth with radium toothpaste, and wore radium cosmetics that gave their skin a bright, cheery glow.

Mixed with the right kind of paint, radium would luminesce after exposure to light, so that a watch face painted with the stuff could soak up energy during the day and stay visible all night long. It was one of the scientific miracles of a very optimistic age.

 

The Work of the Radium Girls

The men who worked for U.S. Radium Corp. (USRC) wore lead aprons to protect them from this radiation, which was known to have a cumulative effect.

The reason the company gave for this difference was that the male engineers were handling huge bundles of raw material, while the girls were never exposed to more than a small amount at once.

 

The shop girls were given no protection of any kind and even encouraged to lick their brushes to get a fine point for detail work.

 

 

Women painting alarm clock faces in the Ingersoll factory. January 1932.

 

Day after day during the war, and for many years after, the radium girls painted military and civilian watches and dials, licking their paintbrushes and handling jars of radium tincture as carelessly as they would handle any paint.

This paint naturally got all over the girls, whose clothes and skin would glow when they got home from work. The girls thought this was great fun; reassured by their supervisors that they were perfectly safe.

 

Image: Emi Gennis

 

Dozens of these so called ‘radium girls’ died at tragically young ages from cancer, necrosis, and radiation poisoning.

 

 

Use of radium paint gradually fell out of favor, but was still commonplace in the late 1960s when safer chemicals were discovered and used for self-luminosity.

Today, radium is used primarily in nuclear medicine and has few other practical purposes. And unlike other elements, it is not needed to sustain organic life.

 

How to Check For Radium in Your Tap Water

Even though 80 percent of the radium consumed or inhaled will be excreted by the body, the remaining 20 percent will enter the blood stream and travel to all areas of the body, with a portion of that percentage accumulating in the bones, according to an EPA factsheet.

High doses of radium–typically higher than the levels seen in drinking water–are known to cause cancer. No amount of exposure to radium is risk-free, but the risk of cancer does decrease with lower doses.

As with many carcinogens, exposure to radium in early life is more harmful than being exposed as a healthy adult. The developing fetus is especially sensitive to the effects of ionizing radiation, which can cause birth defects and damage brain development.

There is no evidence of a level below which a fetus would be safe from these effects. In other words, even very small amounts of radioactive contaminants in tap water may pose a risk during pregnancy.

Radium is most strongly associated with bone cancer but may also cause cancer in other parts of the body.

The latest research also finds that radioactive substances may damage the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems.

 

Dangerous Radium Levels in 27 States

The EWG found radium in all 50 states, with 158 public water systems in 27 states reporting radium in amounts that exceeded the federal legal limit.

California has the most residents impacted by radiation in drinking water, with 64 percent of the population — or 25 million people — affected by the almost 800 systems that reported detectable levels of radium.

Texas is another radium hotspot. The EWG found that the state has the most widespread contamination with about 80 percent of Texans affected. More than 3,500 utilities in Texas, which serve more than 22 million people, reported detectable levels of radium.

 

Watch This: CBS Pittsburgh –

More Than 170 Million Exposed To Radium In Drinking Water

 

 

What Can You Do About Radium?

First, find out if there is any radioactivity measured in your drinking water. Visit EWG’s Tap Water Database and enter your ZIP code. If your water provider is not listed, contact the utility for records of recent testing.

If you drink well water, your county health department should be able to inform you if it detects radioactive elements in any wells in your area. If there are any indications of radioactivity in your area, get your well water tested.

Buying bottled water is the quickest and, initially, cheapest way to get clean drinking water. But over the long haul, it is far more expensive, and plastic bottles are wasteful and an environmental blight.

Producers of bottled waters are regulated by the same standards imposed on public water systems and are also self-regulated by the International Bottled Water Association. Club sodas, carbonated waters, seltzers, and waters containing more than 1 percent flavoring are not covered by these standards.

Water filters are the more permanent solution.  There are many different types of filters available: they may use reverse-osmosis, activated carbon, or ultra-violet rays to clean or purify water.

 

Water Filters That Remove Radium

If radiation is detected in your water, consider buying a water filtration system which is certified to remove radium.

Below are the best-reviewed water filters that have been certified to remove radium 226/228.

 

3M 4US-RO-F02H Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Filter System

The 3M 4US-RO-F02H filters the equivalent of over 24,000 bottles of water per filter life.

 

Plumbed-In to Separate Tap.

Made by 3M Purification Inc. (formerly Cuno, Incorporated)

Known technologies employed: Reverse Osmosis and Carbon Block.

Claims to remove: Arsenic (Pentavalent)<=300 ppb; Asbestos; Atrazine; Barium; Benzene; Bisphenol A; Cadmium; Carbamazepine; Chlorine; Chromium (Hexavalent); Chromium (Trivalent); Copper; Cyst; Estrone; Lead; Linuron; Nitrate/Nitrite; Nonylphenol; P-Dichlorobenzene; Radium 226/228; Selenium; Taste and Odor; TDS; Toxaphene; Turbidity.

Certifications: NSF/ANSI 58, Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems; NSF/ANSI 53, Drinking Water Treatment Units – Health Effects; NSF/ANSI 401, Drinking Water Treatment Units – Emerging Compounds/Incidental Contaminants; NSF/ANSI 42, Drinking Water Treatment Units – Aesthetic Effects; CSA Standard B483.1, Drinking Water Treatment Systems.

Data obtained from Water Quality Association (WQA)

 

American Plumber WRO-2550 Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water System

 

American Plumber WRO-2550 Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water System includes 50 gallon per day reverse osmosis element

 

Plumbed-In to Separate Tap.

Made by Pentair Residential Filtration, LLC

Known technologies employed: Reverse Osmosis, Physical Filter and Granular Activated Carbon.

Claims to remove: Barium; Cadmium; Chromium (Hexavalent); Chromium (Trivalent); Copper; Cyst; Fluoride; Lead; Radium 226/228; Selenium; TDS; Turbidity.

Certifications: NSF/ANSI 58, Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems.

Data obtained from Water Quality Association (WQA)

 

APEC Water Systems RO-90 Reverse Osmosis System

 

APEC Water Systems RO-90 Reverse Osmosis System

 

 

 

  • Top tier brand, designed, engineered and assembled in the US. High performance Drinking water system provides refreshing crisp taste, superior to bottled water
  • Highest grade 5-stage ultra-pure system with 100% US made, NSF certified filters to guarantee water safety & your health
  • Wqa Gold seal certified to remove up to 99% of contaminants including arsenic, chlorine, lead, fluoride, heavy metals, bacteria, virus and 1000+ contaminants
  • Equipped with super capacity filters that last twice as long compare to others
  • System comes with 100% Lead-Free chrome faucet, plus FDA Certified JG Food grade tubing to provide safe, contamination-free pure water

 

Plumbed-In to Separate Tap.

Made by APEC Water Systems 1320 S. Johnson Drive City of Industry, CA 91748 United States

Known technologies employed: Reverse Osmosis, Physical Filter and Carbon Block.

Claims to remove: Arsenic (V) (less than 50 ppb); Barium; Cadmium; Copper; Fluoride; Hexavalent Chromium; Lead; Radium 226/228; Selenium; TDS; Trivalent Chromium; Turbidity.

Certifications: NSF/ANSI 58 (04/17/2014): Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems is within WQA’s ANSI and SCC approved scope of accreditation under the Drinking Water Treatment Units Scheme.

Data obtained from Water Quality Association (WQA)

 

Aquasana OptimH2O AQ-RO-3

 

Aquasana OptimH2O AQ-RO-3

 

 

 

  • Instant access to healthy water – keeps you and your family hydrated all day. Provides better tasting food and beverages
  • Removes up to 99% of 77 contaminants including lead, mercury, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and more
  • Full system NSF certified to standards 42, 53, 401 +P473 – will not leach contaminants back into your water
  • Zero additives and zero waste – no water is wasted while using this system and no harmful contaminants are added back into your water
  • Healthy water at only 9 cents per gallon – sediment pre-filter increases capacity and filter gives you 600 gallons of ultra delicious water
  • Stylish designer all metal faucet included to match your kitchen decor – 100% lead free
  • Includes first set of filters and all parts required for DIY installation – no plumber required

 

Plumbed-In to Separate Tap.

Made by Aquasana, Inc.

Known technologies employed: Carbon Block and Reverse Osmosis.

Claims to remove: PFOA; PFOS; Chlorine; Chloramine; Nominal Particulate, Class I; Taste and Odor; Asbestos; Cyst; Lead; Mercury; MTBE; Turbidity; VOC; Arsenic (Pentavalent)<=300 ppb; Barium; Cadmium; Chromium (Hexavalent); Chromium (Trivalent); Copper; Cyst; Fluoride; Lead; Radium 226/228; Selenium; Turbidity; TDS; Nitrate/Nitrite.

Certifications: NSF Protocol P473, Drinking Water Treatment Units – PFOA & PFOS.

Data obtained from NSF (National Science Foundation)

 

Brondell H2O+ Circle Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System

Brondell H2O Circle Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System

 

Brondell’s Circle Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System utilizes patented new technology to eliminate back-pressure, making it up to 10 times more efficient than current conventional RO systems. Additionally, the Circle RO Water Filter eliminates any need for electricity by integrating the tank and filters. Brondell’s Circle is an all-in-one, easy-to-install complete system.

Key Features

  • Water-saving smart technology — up to 10 times more efficient than conventional RO systems
  • Designer chrome faucet with integrated LED filter change indicator (included)
  • Space-saving compact design leaves plenty of room for under-sink storage
  • Patented Smart Valve and flexible water tank delivers maximum water efficiency
  • Automatic filter flushing significantly extends the life of the RO Membrane filter (two-year RO filter)
  • Constant flow rates without pumps
  • 6L tank refills fully in under one hour
  • Certified four-stage filtration: sediment filter, pre-carbon plus filter, RO membrane filter, post carbon block filter
  • Quick-change filters – twist-and-seal filters make filter replacement a breeze
  • Non-electric design (no pumps or electricity required)
  • Certified for NSF/ANSI Standards 42, 53, 58, and 372
  • Gold Seal-certified by WQA (Water Quality Association) for trusted performance
  • One-year warranty

Plumbed-In to Separate Tap.

Made by Brondell, Inc 550 15th Street, Suite 4 San Francisco, California 94103 United States

Known technologies employed: Reverse Osmosis, Physical Filter and Carbon Block.

Claims to remove: Aesthetic Chlorine; Arsenic (V) (less than 50 ppb); Barium; Cadmium; Copper; Fluoride; Hexavalent Chromium; Lead; Radium 226/228; Selenium; Taste and Odor; TDS; Trivalent Chromium; VOC (as chloroform).

Certifications: NSF/ANSI 42 (10/16/2014): Drinking Water Treatment Units, Aesthetic Effects is within WQA’s ANSI and SCC approved scope of accreditation under the Drinking Water Treatment Units Scheme; NSF/ANSI 53 (04/01/2012): Drinking Water Treatment Units – Health Effects is within WQA’s ANSI and SCC approved scope of accreditation under the Drinking Water Treatment Units Scheme; NSF/ANSI 58 (04/17/2014): Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems is within WQA’s ANSI and SCC approved scope of accreditation under the Drinking Water Treatment Units Scheme.

Data obtained from Water Quality Association (WQA)

 

iSpring #RCC7AK-UV 7-Stage Reverse Osmosis Water Filtration System

 

iSpring RCC1UP-AK-UV 7-Stage Maximum Performance RO Filtration System

 

 

Key Features

  • iSpring Maximum Performance Line – unmatched speed, efficiency, and drain ratio
  • Pre-equipped booster pump operates near silent
  • Filters 1,000+ water pollutants including common adversaries chlorine and fluoride
  • Thin-film composite semipermeable RO membrane filters down to 0.0001 micron (a human hair is approximately 50 microns)
  • RO membrane rated at 100 gallons per day, superior to the standard 75 GPD membranes on most systems
  • Alkaline remineralization filter balances pH and reintroduces healthy ionized minerals
  • 11W ultraviolet sterilizer kills viruses and bacteria; powers on and off with water flow

 

Plumbed-In to Separate Tap.

Made by iSpring Water Systems, LLC 3020 Trotters Parkway Alpharetta, GA 30004 United States

Known technologies employed: Reverse Osmosis, Physical Filter, Granular Activated Carbon and Carbon Block.

Claims to remove: Arsenic (V) (less than 50 ppb); Barium; Cadmium; Copper; Fluoride; Hexavalent Chromium; Lead; Radium 226/228; Selenium; TDS; Trivalent Chromium; Turbidity.

Certifications: NSF/ANSI 58 (04/17/2014): Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems is within WQA’s ANSI and SCC approved scope of accreditation under the Drinking Water Treatment Units Scheme.

*Data obtained from Water Quality Association (WQA)

 

Final Thoughts

Check the safety of your tap water today; it’s as simple as visiting EWG’s interactive map.  If your tap water contains an unsafe level of radium, stop drinking it immediately.

Pick up some bottled water, and consider looking into a water filtration system for your home. 

If we’ve learned anything from the tragic history of the ‘Radium Girls,’ it’s that radium exposure isn’t something to take lightly.

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