Radium in Water

Recent water problems in Wisconsin are raising nationwide concerns about radium in water.

Recent water problems in Wisconsin are raising nationwide concerns about radium in water. The rarely mentioned contaminant is costly to remove and a significant hazard to health.
Here, we address your most frequently asked questions about radium in water.

What is radium?

Radium-226 is a highly radioactive chemical element. First discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie, it's most common application was as luminescent paint in watches, switches, and dials.
The most famous example of the chemical's use comes from a New Jersey factory in 1917 when young female factory workers were employed to paint watch dials with radium. The deadly nature of the element wasn't known, so to achieve a finer point, they licked their radium-dipped paintbrushes and ingested significant amounts of radium in the process.
Dozens of these so called 'radium girls' died at tragically young ages from cancer, necrosis, and radiation poisoning.
radium in water
The 'radium girls' at work in the early 1900s
Use of radium paint gradually fell out of favor, but was still commonplace in the late 1960s when safer chemicals were discovered and used for self-luminosity.
Today, radium is used primarily in nuclear medicine and has few other practical purposes. And unlike other elements, it is not needed to sustain organic life.

How does radium get into water?

Aquifers are like giant sponges hundreds of feet below the Earth, and some contain water that has been retained for millions of years.
There are two types of aquifers to consider: confined and unconfined. An unconfined aquifer is the most common source of groundwater because it is easily accessible and quickly replenishable, sitting just below the Earth's surface.
A confined aquifer can be multiple layers of rock and dirt below the surface, impermeable to everything above ground. These aquifers, sometimes called deep bedrock aquifers, can contain large bodies of slowly replenished, highly compressed groundwater.
Due to their depth, the water moves slower and is more likely to pick up contaminants than fast moving unconfined aquifers. One of those contaminants is radium, a naturally occurring element in bedrock.
The deeper the aquifer, the easier it is for contaminants like radium to enter and be retained if water is brought to the surface.
radium in water
A visual representation of an unconfined and confined aquifer. Not to scale.

What are the risks of radium poisoning?

Radium in water is a health risk and is not needed to sustain organic life.
According to the Water Quality Association, long-term consumption of even low doses of radium at 5.0 pCi/L, the current EPA limit, can increase the likelihood of cancer, birth defects, and kidney damage.
Keep in mind, radium doses can spike far above 5.0 pCi/L limit, as they have in Wisconsin, but remain out of EPA-violation as long as the level does not remain elevated for more than a year.
It's assumed that any level of radiation carries some risk, whether it's 1.0 pCi/L or 10, but it's impossible to eliminate radiation entirely, as almost everything in the world emits some type of it.
Look in the kitchen for a few examples: bananas, carrots, and potatoes all throw off small amounts of radiation due their high potassium content, an element with a radioactive isotope.
Don't take that as an excuse to skip your fruits and vegetables, the radiation emitted by these foods is trivial. Dose, duration, and type all make an important difference between negligible effects and significant risks.

How do I know if there is radium in my water?

Radium, like many contaminants, is undetectable to human senses, so only a professional water test can confirm the presence of radium in water.
Culligan offers many different levels of water testing, and the test for radium typically comes at an additional cost, so ask your local dealer for more information.
radium in water
You can further estimate your risk by understanding your water supply.
If you're getting public water from a city with a deep municipal well, then you could be exposed radium.
Private wells are at a low risk for radium contamination due to their shallow depth, but that still exposes you to contaminants like arsenic and nitrates.
Remember, your private well is not monitored by the EPA or your local government. You're responsible for getting a comprehensive test at least once a year to ensure your water safety.

How do I remove radium in water?

A Culligan Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water System or a Culligan High-Efficiency Water Softener can remove up to 90 percent of radium.
Activated carbon filters (e.g. pitcher, fridge and faucet filters) are ineffective.
The removal of radium is just one benefit that comes from owning or renting with Culligan. Our drinking water systems provide a continuous supply of high-quality drinking water with no unpleasant taste or odor.
A Culligan HE Water Softener provides soft water for your entire house, reduces the consumption of soaps and cleaners, and leaves your clothes, skin, and hair feeling bright and soft.
Radium in water is a serious contaminant. Culligan is the leader in water treatment. Locate or Contact your local Culligan Water expert with questions or to get started on a solution.