A recent water collection test taken in June had detected increased levels of radium at the 17.8 Well on Davis Boulevard, affecting residents in about a quarter of the city.
While the radium in the water was detected at a level of 9.7 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), which is nearly double the Maximum Contamination Level (MCL) of 5 pCi/L set by the Environment Protection Agency, officials aren’t ringing the emergency bells yet.
“To kind of put it in perspective, the EPA’s studies show that you’d have to drink like two liters a day of water over 5 pCi/L for over a year to get the equivalent of getting one chest X-ray,” Bountiful Water Director Kraig Christensen explains to ABC4.com.
However, those residents in the affected area (shown as Zone 1 in the map below) who have a specific health concern such as a previous cancer diagnosis or an immune deficiency issue should contact their doctor.
Studies have shown that high levels of radium can weaken the immune system, cause anemia, and crack teeth. Radium can also lead to an increase in cancer if exposure persists for years.
As for the cause of the issue, Christensen states the extreme drought conditions the entire state has been experiencing this year could be the most likely culprit. As water levels have plummeted throughout Utah, radium, a naturally occurring element in the ground soil, has become less diluted in the culinary water supply. The aquifer at the well on Davis Boulevard picked up the increased traces of the radioactive element during regular testing in June, and officials responded by severely decreasing the well’s usage, Christensen explains.
The well is still being pumped to an extent, but mostly to supply water for fire control use. There is a likelihood that the water was consumed by residents in Bountiful, but Christensen assures ABC4.com that it isn’t an emergency situation. Water with radium is not dangerous for bathing, as it can’t be absorbed through the skin. And even though drinking or cooking with contaminated water can pose a health concern over time, Bountiful City is working to implement a blending plan to mix the water at the well with cleaner water purchased from another treatment plant. The culinary water main line will also be repaired within five months of the notice, according to the city.
Christensen believes the situation in Bountiful may be the first of its kind throughout the state where the drought has made an impact on the toxicity of the drinking water. With a plan in place to mitigate the issue, he feels confident that the radium levels will decrease significantly over the coming months, as the city continues to monitor the situation and work with the Division of Drinking Water.
The drought has been hard on the entire city’s water supply, he adds.
“The worst part about it is that we didn’t have the production from our treatment plan,” he laments. Generally, we were able to produce 1,200 gallons a minute or so during the peak time of the year. Without that snow or rain, we have had to considerably drop down our treatment plant and substitute with different sources, like our wells and purchasing from other entities that are around us.”