Is My Water Radioactive?
According to a recent investigative report by our friends at Environmental Working Group (EWG), more than 170 million Americans drink tap water contaminated by radiation.
Radioactivity is not scary in the way that movies and popular culture depict. Sadly, it is much stealthier and insidious–it can cause irreparable damage to your body that stays hidden for years, or even across generations.
We are exposed to natural radiation in our daily lives (like bananas!). Radioactive particles, or radionuclides, are a part of the natural world–they exist in plants and animals usually as potassium-40 or radium-226. However, increased exposure to radiation occurs in our water or air when nuclear power plants, mining operations, or laboratories release radioactive materials into the environment. We’re here to help you answer:
What Are Radioactive Particles?
Radioactive particles are present in rocks and soil, which usually serve as the path to enter groundwater. The two types of radioactive particles present in water are alpha and beta particles–which are present in different sizes and element types.Radioactivity is “the act of emitting radiation spontaneously.”
An atom can be radioactive when it is unstable and wants to dissipate some of its energy to reach a more stable form. The different “forms” of stable or unstable radioactive elements are called isotopes. We distinguish these radioactive isotopes by their mass, which is attached to the end of the element name, like Uranium-238.
Types of Ionizing Radiation: What Are Alpha and Beta Particles?
Radioactive particles are present in rocks and soil, which usually serve as the path to enter groundwater. The two types of radioactive particles present in water are alpha and beta particles–which are present in different sizes and element types.
What Are Alpha Particles?
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons. Common examples in water are radium-226, radon-222, uranium-238, polonium-210, lead-206. While alpha particles cannot penetrate skin from the outside, they are active in the body and can cause damage if consumed.
What Are Beta Particles?
Beta particles are radioactive particles made up of one electron. Common examples in water are strontium-90, potassium-40. Beta particles can penetrate the top layer of skin and cause burns. Beta particles likely cause more damage inside the body than alpha particles–they have more energy and can therefore travel farther into body tissue than alpha particles can.
Can Water Be Radioactive?
We are concerned about naturally occurring radiation and additional radioactive particles that enter water from rock formations near mining sites, nuclear power plants, or laboratories.
Radon, in particular, occurs in gaseous form in soils and can dissolve into groundwater or enter homes as a gas through the basement. Exposures to radon in both air and water are seriously concerning–here, we focus on exposure through drinking water.
Can I Test Radioactivity in Water?
Yes! What’s more is you should test your water because unfortunately, there are no obvious signs of radioactive particles.
While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for radionuclides in city treated drinking water, well water is unregulated. Additionally, if you consume well water, you face a much higher risk for radioactive contamination.
A study conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) found that 65% of wells contained radioactive particles.
Take a look out our tests that will indicate if your water contains radioactive particles:
Full Radiation Water Test: This package tests your water for Alpha Radiation and Beta Radiation from any source, including Radium, Radon, Uranium, and Strontium. We can also test for any of these directly, but we advise a general screen unless you already believe there's a specific problem.
If we detect radioactive particles in your water, there is hope. Every Tap Score water test includes unbiased and personalized treatment recommendations based on what is found in your water. Our team of treatment experts, chemists, and water quality engineers can walk you through how to treat your drinking water so that you know that what you are drinking is safe.
How Do Radioactive Particles Affect My Health?
Unfortunately, the effects from radioactive particles in water can cause cancer and even be fatal.
While our skin can protect us against alpha particles in the environment, exposure to radiation through water is particularly dangerous because radioactive elements damage tissues and organs.
Radioactive particles cause damage by breaking chemical bonds essential to our body’s functioning. Changing bonds in a molecule drastically alters its ability to function. If a group of cells crucial to bodily function dies, the effects can be fatal.
After the bonds of normal cells in the body are broken, they release electrons. This can create a chain reaction that can eventually impact DNA molecules. Mutations are consequent to DNA damage, which lead to cancer. And, if germ (sex) cells are mutated, the cancer can be transmitted to children long after the initial exposure.
How Do I Protect Myself From Radioactive Particles in Water?
Step one is to test your water. Step two is to treat it.
There are two primary treatment options for radioactive particles in water–carbon filters and ion exchange:
- Carbon filters are one option for removing radium and strontium from drinking water. However, if radon is also present the filter must be changed very frequently–carbon can adsorb radon and lead to higher radiation exposure if radon is left to build up. As radon particles accumulate, they may fall out of the filter and back into the water stream.
- Ion exchange can be used to treat uranium. However, ion exchange creates backwash that contains high concentrations of radionuclides, which makes disposal a concern.
Ultimately, the type of treatment you choose depends on what type of radiation problem you have. That’s why we always recommend you test your water BEFORE you treat it. For our full range of specialized tests: take a look here, as well as our broad testing packages for city and well water!
Have more questions? Feel free to email us at email@example.com!