Tap Water Facts
170 Million Americans May Be Drinking Water Contaminated by Radium
In 2018, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported a scary statistic - drinking water for more than 170 million Americans in all 50 states contains radioactive elements that may increase the risk of cancer.
According to the report, the most common radioactive element in American tap water is radium. EWG’s analysis of test data from almost 50,000 public water systems found that from 2010 to 2015, more than 22,000 utilities in all 50 states reported radium in the treated water delivered to customers’ taps.
Only a small percentage of those systems exceeded the EPA’s legal limits for radium, set in 1976. But almost all exceeded California state scientists’ public health goals for two separate radium isotopes, set in 2006, which are hundreds of times more stringent than the EPA’s standard for the two isotopes combined. The elevated risk of cancer, as well as potential harm to fetal growth and brain development, decreases with lower doses of radiation but does not go away.
California has the most residents affected by radiation in drinking water. From 2010 to 2015, about 64 percent of the state’s residents were served by public water systems that reported detectable levels of the two radium isotopes. In Texas, which has a smaller population, about 80 percent of the population was served by utilities reporting detectable levels of those elements.
A number of treatment methods are available to remove radium from water. Ion exchange, lime softening, and reverse osmosis are the most common and can remove up to 90 percent of radium present.