Radioactivity has been in the news a lot lately. On March 11, 2011, the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Japan began to leak radioactive material due to the Tōhoku tsunami and earthquake. The disaster was rated Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale—only Chernobyl has 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. The latest 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 melt down over two 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. These 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 home owners 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 be tested for. 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 free, basic testing for simple issues like iron and chlorine levels. For something more complex—like radioactivity—US Water Systems offers the Clean Water Test, which checks for over 30 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 might be best to speak with a professional. Water experts are available at US Water seven days a week to help you. You can either call 800-608-8792 or email at [email protected].