Uranium and Your Health
Uranium is a naturally and commonly occurring radioactive element. It is found in very small amounts in nature in the form of minerals but may be processed into a silver-colored metal. Rocks, soil, surface and underground water, air, plants, and animals all contain varying amounts of uranium.
Most ingested uranium is eliminated from the body. However, a small amount is absorbed and carried through the bloodstream to the various organs. Studies show that elevated levels of uranium from any source, including drinking water, can increase a person's risk of kidney damage. The kidney is the most sensitive organ for damage by uranium.
Over time, drinking water that contains uranium can increase a person's estimated lifetime risk of cancer. However, uranium is not likely to cause cancer since it is mildly radioactive and has not been found to cause cancer in either humans or animals, even at very high doses over long periods of time.
Exposure and Risk
Because uranium is found everywhere in small amounts, people always take it into the body from the air, water, food, and soil. In most areas of the United States, low levels of uranium are found in the drinking water. Higher levels may be found in areas with elevated levels of naturally occurring uranium in rocks and soil.
The chemical effects of uranium in drinking water are of greater concern than the possible effects of its radioactivity. Bathing and showering with water that contains uranium is not a health concern.
People who work at factories that process uranium, work with phosphate fertilizers, or live near uranium mines have a chance of taking in more uranium than most other people. Larger-than-normal amounts of uranium might also enter the environment from erosion of tailings from mines and mills for uranium and other metals. Accidental discharges from uranium processing plants are possible, but these compounds spread out quickly into the air.
EPA has set the maximum containment level (MCL) for uranium in drinking water as 30 µg/L.
EPA strongly encourages people to learn more about their drinking water, and to support local efforts to protect and upgrade the supply of safe drinking water. Your water bill or telephone book's government listings are a good starting point for local information.
EPA requires all community water systems to prepare and deliver an annual consumer confidence report (CCR) (sometimes called a water quality report) for their customers by July 1 of each year. If your water provider is not a community water system, or if you have a private water supply, request a copy from a nearby community water system.
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