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Checking For Radioactivity

by Mark Timmons February 14, 2024 0 Comments

On March 11, 2011, the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Japan began to leak radioactive material due to the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake. The disaster was rated Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale - only Chernobyl was rated as high. The disaster continues to affect the people of Japan and the global population at large. When most people think of radioactivity, industrial accidents like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl come to the forefront of their minds.

Words like "Uranium" are associated with nuclear weapons and terrorism. But radioactivity can just as easily be associated with our everyday needs, like clean drinking water. One story to come out of the Fukushima event was the release of over a thousand tons of contaminated water after the Man-Yi typhoon struck Japan on September 16. People all over the world have been worried about tainted water and seafood since the nuclear power plant went into meltdown over 13 years ago.

What most people don't understand is that radioactive elements are present far from bomb silos and power stations. In fact, radioactivity can occur naturally. Rock types, called NORMs (Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials), are present virtually everywhere. Uranium (often associated with nuclear weapons) is the most abundant radioactive element found in nature. Over time, Uranium will decay further into other radioactive elements (called radionuclides) like radium and radon.

Wait, radon? Doesn't that word ring a bell? That's right, most homeowners hear about radon testing at some point. This radionuclide can actually come in a gas or liquid form, and both can be quite dangerous to people. The simple truth is that any of these elements, uranium or radium, can be present in your water. This is especially true if your drinking water comes from a groundwater source like a well. Most regulatory agencies recommend testing your well water at least once a year.

Radioactive contaminants in your water are not to be taken lightly. Consider how many parts of your body are connected to your digestive system. Radon alone, which can be present even in surface water and soil in its gaseous state, can cause both lung and stomach cancer. Uranium and radium, when ingested, can cause bone cancer and kidney failure.

This information isn’t meant to terrify you. All of these radionuclides can easily be tested by a water analysis laboratory. In many cases, these harmful elements can be removed from your drinking water right at home with proper filtering methods. There is no perfect system to protect you from all of these contaminants. Like most things in life, prevention is the key. Testing your water regularly will let you know if any problems exist and if anything has changed over time.

Remember, groundwater can become contaminated at any time. Just because the well is fine now doesn't mean the water will be safe to drink forever. US Water Systems actually offers basic testing for simple issues like iron and chlorine levels. For something more complex, like radioactivity, US Water Systems offers two versions of America's Best Water Test. The Basic Test checks for over 50 contaminants, including some radioactive elements, while the Premium Test checks for well over 100 contaminants.

Once you know there is a problem with your water, treating methods can include filtration, ion-exchange softening, and reverse osmosis. Radioactivity in drinking water is a serious issue, and it is certainly best to speak with a professional. A successful and sustainable water treatment system takes into consideration the specific contaminant that needs to be removed, as well as “competing contaminants” that can affect the system's operation. Certified Water Specialists and Master Water Specialists at US Water Systems are available seven days a week to help you. You can either call 800-608-8792 or email at

Removing Radioactivity from Water

Since the disaster at the nuclear plant in Japan, we have literally been getting inundated with requests for ways of removing radioactivity from the water. Recently, we also found out this information, courtesy of The LA Times' Julie Makinen and Kenji Hall:

The operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant began releasing thousands of tons of radioactive water into the sea Monday evening under an emergency measure approved by the government to make room in storage tanks for far more severely contaminated water. About 10,000 tons of the water to be released was being taken from a communal storage facility near the No. 4 reactor. Another 1,500 tons was being released from near the No. 5 and 6 reactors — which have faced fewer problems than the other reactors. The amount of water being released is equivalent to the contents of more than four Olympic-size swimming pools. The water being released has levels of radioactive iodine-131 at least 100 times the legal limit allowed for sea discharge, but the government approved the release to allow water with 100,000 times more radiation than water found in a normally functioning reactor to be removed from the basement of the turbine building at reactor No. 2 and stored elsewhere at the site.

Now, they go on to say that this poses no threat to humans, but since they have no choice but to release the water, what do you expect them to say? I don't know about you, but I have concerns about it. While I am not a "survivalist" who stockpiles food, water, guns, goods, and things like that in case of a catastrophe and I don't have a "bomb shelter," I am a water expert and know that while not going to extremes, there are ways that you can protect yourself and limit exposure to radioactive nuclear waste.

Of course, it would be wise not to consume food, such as fish or vegetables, exposed to radiation, but the water you drink, shower, and wash your hands in is also a primary route of contamination, if not THE primary route. What can be done to protect yourself and your family from radioactive elements that can be in your water? The simple answer is "plenty"! The first thing that comes to mind is to protect your drinking water, but removing or reducing radioactivity from the water you ingest is only the beginning. Skin absorption, dermal contact, and inhalation of radioactive vapor are also major concerns.

The good news is that advanced water treatment technologies are now capable of reducing or removing radioactivity from both drinking water and all the water in the household. Ion exchange, distillation, and reverse osmosis are all viable technologies for reducing radioactivity in the water supply. So, all you have to do is Point, Click, and Buy a Radioactivity Removal System? It's not that simple. If you have a "super filter" that takes it out, where does it go? If it gets trapped in the filter, what happens when the filter has trapped a significant amount and the filter becomes a "radioactive hot spot?"

Also, what do you do with the contaminated cartridges? How do you dispose of them? Bury them in your neighbor's yard? I hope not!

At this juncture, I am confident that you should have a reverse osmosis system. Different types of ion exchange, including water softening, can remove some radioactive elements. Still, Cesium 137 and radioactive iodine behave much differently from uranium, which is easily removed due to its heavy weight. There is a lot of work and research that needs to be done in this area - stay tuned!

FYI: The radiation level in Chernobyl is now much lower than in the first days after the accident. The isotopes Iodine-131, Cesium-134, and Cobalt-60 have now almost completely decayed. Americium-241 and Plutonium-239 will be in the soil for another thousand years.

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