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Study finds widespread uranium contamination in US drinking water

Published Apr 11th, 2022 5:15PM EDT
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Image: Brian Jackson / Adobe

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has discovered unsafe levels of uranium in the water. The researchers published their findings in the journal Lancet Planetary Health. They discovered the radioactive element in some of the U.S. drinking water supply, especially around semi-urban, Hispanic communities.

The EPA found unsafe levels of uranium in the water

uranium in the water supplyImage source: Dmitry Naumov / Adobe

The EPA says that it’s unclear how much of a threat higher levels of uranium pose to our water supply. However, it does want to completely remove the radioactive, metallic compound from the U.S. drinking water supply altogether. That’s because it has become one of the most underappreciated contaminants in the public drinking supply.

The EPA has a maximum contaminant level set for the total amount of uranium in the water. Researchers found that two-thirds of the samples between 2000 and 2011 had 2.1 percent higher than average uranium concentration than the EPA “allows”.

Gizmodo notes that previous research has shown that almost four percent of private wells in the United States have higher-than-allowed levels of uranium. These new findings are the first to show nationwide contamination, though.

Our public drinking systems provide over 90 percent of water to the country. As such, it is concerning to see radioactive elements like uranium reaching high contamination levels.

High levels of uranium could be tied to chronic illnesses

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A sick man lies in a hospital bed. Image source: kieferpix/Adobe

One of the main reasons that uranium in the water is so worrying is because it could be part of the cause behind higher rates of chronic illness in affected neighborhoods. The researchers found higher concentrations around poorer neighborhoods. On top of that, we’ve seen higher rates of chronic illness and just generally worse health in those particular areas.

The hope, the authors say, is that this new research will put pressure on policymakers. That pressure could help motivate them to enact more substantial reforms to protect our water from elements like uranium. We already have some regulations thanks to the EPA, but we need better ways to enforce them.

Unfortunately, only time will tell just how much policymakers rely on this data to reform policies. What we do know, though, is if we allow uranium in the water to continue building up, we could see more dire effects in those semi-urban communities where it is already higher than it should be.

When you consider that uranium is a staple in nuclear devices, it’s a little terrifying to think that it can also be found in such high concentrations without the U.S. water supply. The researchers created a map of the concentrated areas, which you can see on the Columbia University website.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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