The thought of radioactive water is more than enough to leave a sour taste in our mouths, however, it seems that may very well be the case for millions of people. Does over half of the drinking water in the US contain radioactive elements?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently carried out an investigation that revealed to us just how ‘radioactive’ our drinking water truly is. They found that a quite large portion of the drinking water in all 50 states contains radioactive elements that could actually for those who do not know, increase our risks of cancer. This group took the time to analyze around 50,000 public water systems. Their research showed that water consumed by around 170 million Americans contain radioactive elements on some level.

Credit: EWG

That being said, while there were many cases where radioactivity was found, they did not exceed the EPA’s legal limits. Only 27 states were found to have water supplies with radioactivity levels exceeding the EPA’s limit. In 158 public water systems used by over 200,000 Americans, this group found that radium levels were above the legal limits.

The most common radioactive element the EWG found was radium. Radium is something that the EPA categorizes as carcinogenic and sets safety levels for it. This is something that enters groundwater naturally through deposits in the Earth’s crust. Levels were found to be higher in places where oil/gas drilling was occurring as it disturbs the deposits from rock and soil.

This study was conducted between 2010 and 2015, it also noted that people in California are drinking water that contains levels of radium far above what is considered to be safe. The EPA guidelines are as you most likely would have assumed not as stringent as they could be. The EPA’s levels allow for 70 cases per 1 million in regards to cancers this sort of thing causes.

The study states as follows:

The EPA has classified all ionizing radiation as carcinogenic. There is clear evidence that high doses of radiation cause cancer in various organs. The probability of developing cancer decreases with lower doses of radiation, but it does not go away.

The developing fetus is especially sensitive to ionizing radiation. At doses higher than are typically found in drinking water, radiation has been shown to impair fetal growth, cause birth defects and damage brain development. But there is no evidence of a dose threshold below which a fetus would be safe from these effects.

Six radioactive contaminants were included in EWG’s Tap Water Database, including radium, radon, and uranium. By far the most widespread are two isotopes of radium known as radium-226 and radium-228, which contaminate tap water in every state. The EPA does not have a separate legal limit for each isotope, only for the combined level of the two.

From 2010 to 2015, 158 public water systems serving 276,000 Americans in 27 states reported radium in amounts that exceeded the federal legal limit for combined radium-226 and radium-228.

But federal drinking water standards are based on the cost and feasibility of removing contaminants, not scientific determinations of what is necessary to fully protect human health. And like many EPA tap water standards, the radium limits are based on decades-old research rather than the latest science.

It seems Texas was the region with the most radium in their water supplies. Roughly 20 percent are able to have water without it leaving the other 80 to unknowingly drink this carcinogenic water. Please feel free to check out the interactive map the EWG created by clicking here.

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