Uranium in Drinking Water
Uranium is a naturally occurring element that is widely distributed throughout the Earth’s rocks and soils. Uranium can be dissolved from minerals in the soil or rock and be present in groundwater. The concentration of uranium in water is typically very small, but varies from region to region; depending on the type of minerals in the soil and bedrock.
What are the health concerns?
The most important health concern associated with elevated uranium levels in drinking water is damage to the kidneys, and the potential health effects come from its heavy metal characteristics and not its radioactivity, which is very low. To minimize this risk of kidney damage, the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, published by Health Canada, recommend that uranium concentrations in drinking water should not exceed 0.02 mg/L. This means that no adverse health effects are expected to occur from the ingestion of drinking water containing uranium at this level over a lifetime (70 years).
In the short-term, levels that moderately exceed the guideline are unlikely to have an effect on health. However, in the event that testing shows ongoing elevated levels of uranium, there are several options available including switching to an alternate source of water, treating the water in your well to reduce uranium levels, or if no other options are available, use bottled water for drinking and food preparation. Bathing or showering with water that contains uranium is not a health concern.
What are the treatment options?
While there are no drinking water treatment devices currently certified specifically for the reduction of uranium a number of devices are available to reduce the levels below the guideline level of 0.02 mg/L. A water treatment professional should be consulted for advice on your particular situation. Some of the more common and effective methods include reverse osmosis, anion exchange and distillation. The Department does not recommend specific brands of treatment devices; however, it is recommended that consumers purchase devices bearing a label stating they are certified to NSF /ANSI Standard 58 (for reverse osmosis drinking water treatment systems), NSF/ANSI Standard 62 (for drinking water distillation systems) or for ion exchange systems, a device constructed with materials certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 61(for drinking water system components –health effects).
As with the use of any drinking water treatment device, the effectiveness of treatment should be verified by sampling after installation. In addition, it is important to ensure the device is used and maintained according the manufacturer’s directions and its performance periodically confirmed by sampling.
Who can I contact for more information?