The next big worry: Claim of major U.S. aquifers contaminated by Uranium – but is it really a problem to health?

Study: 2 major US aquifers contaminated by natural uranium

Naturally occurring uranium is being mobilized by farm-related pollution

From the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The intensity of groundwater contamination via uranium (red) and nitrate (blue) is shown in two major aquifers and other sites through out the nation. UNL researcher Karrie Weber says the availability of uranium data pales compared to that of nitrate. CREDIT University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Nearly 2 million people throughout the Great Plains and California above aquifer sites contaminated with natural uranium that is mobilized by human-contributed nitrate, according to a study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Data from roughly 275,000 groundwater samples in the High Plains and Central Valley aquifers show that many Americans live less than two-thirds of a mile from wells that often far exceed the uranium guideline set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The study reports that 78 percent of the uranium-contaminated sites were linked to the presence of nitrate, a common groundwater contaminant that originates mainly from chemical fertilizers and animal waste. Nitrate mobilizes naturally occurring uranium through a series of bacterial and chemical reactions that oxidize the radioactive mineral, making it soluble in groundwater.

UNL researchers Karrie Weber and Jason Nolan found that the High Plains aquifer contains uranium concentrations up to 89 times the EPA standard and nitrate concentrations up to 189 times greater. The uranium and nitrate levels of the California-based Central Valley aquifer measured up to 180 and 34 times their respective EPA thresholds.

The authors published their findings in the August edition of the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters. Their research was funded in part by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“It needs to be recognized that uranium is a widespread contaminant,” said Weber, assistant professor of biological, Earth and atmospheric sciences. “And we are creating this problem by producing a primary contaminant that leads to a secondary one.”

Prior research has suggested that prolonged drinking of uranium-contaminated water may lead, or make people more susceptible, to kidney damage and elevated blood pressure. According to Weber, peer-reviewed studies have also indicated that food crops can accumulate uranium when irrigated by water containing high concentrations of it.

The High Plains aquifer — the largest in the United States — provides drinking water and irrigation for an eight-state swath that stretches from South Dakota through Nebraska and into northern Texas. As California’s largest reservoir, the Central Valley aquifer sits beneath some of the state’s most fertile agricultural land. According to a 2012 census from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the two aquifers irrigate cropland that accounts for one-sixth of the annual revenue generated by U.S. agriculture.

The researchers also determined that only one of the six wells located near a former or current mining site was contaminated. This finding counters the notion that uranium contamination stems primarily from mining operations or spent nuclear fuel, Weber said.

“We hope that this study serves as a catalyst to get other people interested in this issue,” she said. “If the problem is this widespread, more research needs to be done. We’re limited by the data that’s been collected, and uranium isn’t often monitored.”

Weber said the expense of water treatment plants — specialized facilities that can cost tens of millions of dollars — often puts them out of financial reach for smaller and rural communities. Addressing the issue might require managing groundwater and focusing on the aquifers’ sediment, which houses bacteria that can help control uranium by breathing and eating it, she said.

Regardless of the approach, Weber said it is important for decision-makers and researchers to account for the presence of uranium in U.S. water sources.

“When you start thinking about how much water is drawn from these aquifers, it’s substantial relative to anywhere else in the world,” Weber said. “These two aquifers are economically important — they play a significant role in feeding the nation — but they’re also important for health.

“What’s the point of having water if you can’t drink it or use it for irrigation?”


One wonders how much real risk there is here. For example, we get more radiation in a banana (due to radioactive potassium drawn from the soil) than we’d get from exposure to Fukashima’s supposed radiation releases. Along those lines, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta has this to say about natural Uranium exposure:

Root crops such as potatoes, parsnips, turnips, and sweet potatoes contribute the highest amounts of uranium to the diet. The amount of uranium in these foods is directly related to the amount of uranium in the soil in which they are grown.

Just think of all those radioactive french fries and sweet potato fries (the new craze) Americans consume.

The ATSDR goes on to say in the toxicology report:

The general population is exposed to uranium via ingestion of food and drinking water and inhalation of air, with food being the primary contributor to body burden. The daily intake of uranium from food sources ranges from 0.6 to 1.0 pCi/day (0.9–1.5 µg/day). Uranium from soil is not taken up by plants, but rather is adsorbed onto the roots. Thus, the highest levels of uranium are found in root vegetables, primarily unwashed potatoes. Populations living near uranium mills or mines or other areas with elevated uranium in soil may be exposed to higher levels of uranium from locally grown vegetables. Uranium levels in drinking water vary widely, with a mean population-weighted average of 0.8 pCi/L. Compared to the ingestion route, the intake of uranium via inhalation is small; intakes range from 0.0007 to 0.007 pCi/day (0.001–0.01 µg/day).

Uranium is poorly absorbed following inhalation, oral, or dermal exposure and the amount absorbed is heavily dependent on the solubility of the compound.

It is important to note that this report doesn’t assign public health risks and says nothing about the background radiation count prior to the study because they appear to have no historical research to look at previous levels. if water examples from those aquifers exist from 50 or more years ago, they might be able to quantify how much if any increase in Uranium solubility there is.

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August 18, 2015 10:06 am

Fear and ignorance is the key that allows political control of a gullible public obsessed with their “modern” and “polluted” society…Chicken Little is alive and well.
A movement towards ying/yang is a great medicine for life that does not require any prescription.
Just rational thought and common-sense practice

Reply to  cnxtim
August 20, 2015 4:18 pm

I worked on a Uranium mine in Northern Territory of Australia some years ago. At the time it was built it was the most heavily regulated mine in the world, controlled by its own Act of the Australian Parliament. Part of the Act required the mine to monitor every drop of water that left the mine site and report on any contaminates in the water including uranium. They did these reports on a regular basis and contaminates were detailed in ‘PPM’ = parts per million, uranium was not always present in measurable amounts!. The mine was also charged to monitor the radiation of the local area including the nearby creek which would only flow during the wet season with several monitoring stations along the creek bed. These figures were always reported in kilograms per mega litre and the numbers were always eye opening!
We are always led by what is written and it is hard to sit back sometimes and balance information with rational though and question.

August 18, 2015 10:15 am

Atmospheric nitrate is fixed by plants/bacteria in the soil….

Pete J.
Reply to  Latitude
August 18, 2015 3:18 pm

Why can’t you just suggest we peel our potatoes and other root vegetables before they are processed and consumed? Should we avoid Potassium-40 as well?

August 18, 2015 10:15 am

Confused? Are there not two paths for damage, radiation or standard heavy metal type poisoning. Does the study claim the harm is from radiation? If not the banana example may be irrelevant.

Reply to  ironargonaut
August 18, 2015 10:25 am

The radioactive aspect will probably be the ‘really scary’ meme that will be used as the call to action.

Bubba Cow
Reply to  SMC
August 18, 2015 10:41 am

been waiting for nuclear to hit the radar – have to scare out that nasty clean, green, abundant energy –
“Japan’s restarts are being closely watched as the Fukushima disaster snuffed out what was then called a global nuclear renaissance. Success in Japan might allow the industry to re-emphasize nuclear as carbon-free energy before international climate talks in Paris this year, where almost 200 nations will negotiate emission standards.
This week, the Obama administration outlined a limited role for U.S. nuclear plants in its carbon reduction rules, withdrawing some credit for existing nuclear units while giving credit to new reactors under construction.
The first Japanese reactor to restart is at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant on the southern island of Kyushu. It could be back online as soon as Aug. 10, according to the company.”

george e. smith
Reply to  ironargonaut
August 18, 2015 12:51 pm

What about the Major US aquifer contaminated with heavy metals by direct action of the EPA.
When is somebody; such as the EPA director, going to get fired for that screw up of incompetence ??

Leonard Lane
August 18, 2015 10:18 am

This is scary. Need more research money.

Reply to  Leonard Lane
August 18, 2015 11:58 am

Only for those who glow in the dark.

george e. smith
Reply to  vukcevic
August 18, 2015 12:53 pm

Ocean is full of Uranium. Before I started swimming in the ocean, I had three bald patches on my head. Now I have only one.
Maybe Uranium, is a cure for unsightly hair growth.

Reply to  vukcevic
August 18, 2015 1:46 pm

My wife tells me, if I come home glowing in the dark, I have to sleep in the garage… However, she does like my night light.

Reply to  vukcevic
August 18, 2015 3:15 pm

Nuts! Now I.’m going to have to worry about these mineral supplements:
Aluminum, antimony, barium, beryllium, bismuth, boron, bromine, cadmium, calcium, cerium, cesium, chlorine, chromium, cobalt, copper, dysprosium, erbium, europium, fluorine, gadolinium, gallium, germanium, gold, hafnium, holmium, indium, iodine, iridium, iron, lanthanum, lithium, lutetium, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, neodymium, nickel, niobium, osmium, palladium, phosphorus, platinum, potassium, praseodymium, rhenium, rhodium, rubidium, ruthenium, samarium, scandium, selenium, silicon, silver, sodium, sulfur, tantalum, tellurium, terbium, thallium, thorium, thulium, tin, titanium, tungsten, uranium, vanadium, ytterbium, yttrium, zinc and zirconium.

James Bull
Reply to  vukcevic
August 19, 2015 12:07 am

Thought you might like this from us on the other side of the pond Windscale is the town near the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant.

James Bull

August 18, 2015 10:19 am

This strikes me as another overhyped press release. EPA guidelines for Uranium are 30uG/L according to this link,

August 18, 2015 10:30 am

Naturally occurring radioactive carbon-14 in *ALL* foods (about 1 part per trillion) continues to be the major source of radiation damage to DNA. It will remain so for several reasons: shorter half-life (5730 years rather than 4.5 billion years) means higher specific activity (4.6 Ci/g for C-14, 3.3×10^-7 Ci/g for U-238, about 14 MILLION times higher!), it incorporates itself DIRECTLY into the DNA rather than shooting blindly at it from a distance as other radioisotopes do, and when a C-14 atom incorporated into a DNA molecule decays it is 100% efficient at causing damage to the DNA.

Reply to  tadchem
August 18, 2015 7:53 pm

See, carbon IS evil!

Reply to  Mark and two Cats
August 19, 2015 8:43 am

But coal is pure natural organic C12. By burning it we lessen the risk of breathing C14.

carbon bigfoot
Reply to  tadchem
August 19, 2015 6:47 am Website numerous studies outlining benefits of lower exposure radiation. Dr. Art Robinson in ACCESS TO ENERGY sited a study where recycled iron ( Hiroshima & Nagasaki ) in rebar used in Japanese apartment buildings resulted in NO CANCER in occupants. Just sayin’.

Smart Rock
Reply to  tadchem
August 25, 2015 7:47 pm

The toxicity of uranium (as opposed to the toxic effects of the radioactivity it generates) doesn’t seem to be well understood. The “Gulf War Syndrome” may be a consequence of the large amounts of depleted (i.e. almost totally non-radioactive) 238U used in armor-piercing shells, and there is a lot of that stuff lying around Iraq (and there are anectdotal reports of large increases in cancer occurrences there too, which may or may not be related). As I say, it’s not well understood (mainly because all the toxicology has focused on the radioactive aspect and not the chemical toxicity), but I’d be cautious about saying uranium is non-toxic in low doses.
Also, when you talk about the low levels of radioactivity from uranium, don’t forget that the overwhelming amount of radiation coming from natural uranium actually derives from its decay products, and some of these are quite nasty. You can sit on bags of yellow-cake in a uranium refinery and receive an utterly minimal dose of radiation, but the raw ore that produced that yellow-cake would knock your socks off (and maybe other body-parts too). Of the daughter products 218Po is particularly nasty because it is an alpha emitter with a very short half-life. The Russian government uses it to assassinate people who say bad things about Putin. Alpha particles are way worse than gamma rays because they are absorbed by tissue, while the gammas mostly go right through you without doing too much damage on the way.
So this article should not be dismissed as shrill eco-nonsense. It may well point to potential health and environmental problems down the road, and if there is a problem developing, there may be simple ways to mitigate it.
BTW I have spent a substantial part of my career doing uranium exploration. I’m about as pro-nuke as they come, but I have learned to respect uranium, and treat it with care.

August 18, 2015 10:34 am

The main point to take home from this article is this quote
“We hope that this study serves as a catalyst to get other people interested in this issue,” she said. “If the problem is this widespread, more research needs to be done. We’re limited by the data that’s been collected, and uranium isn’t often monitored.”
They have learned well from the Climate Changers. Research should only break ground so that more research is needed. Make a 30 year career of it.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Jared
August 18, 2015 12:50 pm

I would rather my tax dollars go to fund this kind of research, and far less into renewable energy research of wind and thermal solar.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
August 18, 2015 2:27 pm

With the increasing age of the population, may I suggest: –
“They have learned well from the Climate Changers. Research should only break ground so that more research is needed. Make a FIFTY year career of it.”
Doesn’t that look better?

August 18, 2015 10:34 am

Gee, there ought to be some way to give CO2 a bit part in this to get a bigger grant. Maybe if the aquifer is somehow warming and becoming acidic?

Reply to  Dawtgtomis
August 18, 2015 10:36 am

{Igor! Close the SARCophagus!}

Peter Miller
August 18, 2015 10:38 am

And let’s not forget that anyone who lives in a granite area is certain to have uranium in their groundwater and radon gas in their basements – and that is a significant percentage of the population.
Thankfully, the levels of contamination are usually insignificant.
For the record, the world’s most naturally radio-active food is usually the brazil nut.

Reply to  Peter Miller
August 18, 2015 5:07 pm

[snip -insults -mod]

James Bull
Reply to  Peter Miller
August 19, 2015 12:22 am

I don’t have anything more than the memory of reading an article in a UK paper about researchers who sent their findings to some of the Greenblob groups showing increases in child cancer near military installations but not giving the locations of said installations. When the recipients of the report started kicking off and demanding action and making claims of a cover up the researchers gave the location of said military installations which were all medieval castle ruins on granite bedrock. It was the granite not the “evil” military causing the increase.
James Bull

Reply to  Peter Miller
August 19, 2015 3:00 am

It isn’t just the food… In about 1971 I had a front tooth capped. The enamel ceramic on it was colored with Uranium. The dentist assured me it wasn’t very radioactive… Lasted about 30 years… slightly irradiating me and my food the whole time. Now banned, along with uraniun glazed dishes once common… but I am still doing fine…
Color me unconcerned about the water…

Mark Luhman
Reply to  Peter Miller
August 19, 2015 6:29 pm

Look at the map, Northern Minnesota is all granite covered with varying degrees of glacial drift, don’t see much uranium contaminated water there.

Gary Pearse
August 18, 2015 10:43 am

This is what happens in science when there seems to be little left to discover. They gotta do something. Red and pink granites which occupy ~3/4 of the Precambrian shield are sub-economic sources of uranium (stay away from the counter top!) at around $100-150/lb. France is electrified 75% or more with nuclear and they have had only one death in the industry since its inception – it was a guy moving spent rods – maybe he was hit with a forklift. We will be getting used to a lot more uranium/thorium around in the not too distant future – it is the only choice for power in the future, not matter what.
Instead of suggesting what will happen to kidneys and blood pressure (probably from an overdose), why don’t they measure the longevity of the population in those regions. I’m sure an alarming drop in longevity would have been noticed before now. I’m still actively consulting in the mining exploration, mineral processing and mine development business, which has included uranium deposits, rare earths with elevated thorium and uranium, and phosphate with elevated uranium and radium and I’m closer to 80 than I am to 70. People I know in uranium exploration are busy working to have an inventory for this slam dunk market of the near future.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
August 18, 2015 11:09 am

Pre-Cambrian granites are one thing, younger ones another. I have sat my tired posterior on 2b.y.+ old granites and heard my scintillometer go click-click after all these aeons. My advice to anyone around the much younger granites in such places as California, Idaho, Nevada, heck, just about anywhere there are intrusive rocks; if you are really afraid; don’t sit on an outcrop. And, as noted, watch out for counter tops (especially those zircons!).

August 18, 2015 10:44 am

Nuclear alarmists always say that while external radiation is not dangerous anymore when the source disappears, the real danger is in ingested or inhaled particles that are alpha emitters, such as uranium, or plutonium. These are supposed to bombard the victim and then cancer is the logical enpoint. It is however not easy to get a substantial amount of uranium or plutonium inside your body this way, and if there is one group of people who experienced that it is the workers that were involved at los Alamos in the development of the A-bomb. As pioneers they received sometimes huge internal doses, and several of them have donated their bodies to the USTUR institute at U Seattle. Here they tried to correlate cause of death to exposure and this has so far resulted in nothing: no excess cancer that could be linked to the exposure.
The late prof Bernard Cohen (Pittsburgh) as well as other have tried to defuse this panic, but so far alas in vain.

Leo Smith
Reply to  theorichel
August 19, 2015 2:46 am

Cohen’s book:
and another valiant attempt to defuse radiation alarmism:

August 18, 2015 11:07 am

Scare the peoples some more.
The number of people that died from evacuation of the Fukushima reactor: 20,000
Number of people who died from radioactive fallout: 0.
Dig a deep hole in the ground where uranium is located and guess what you might find.
Where did they get their training from? Cracker Jack School of no Common Sense.
The lies about fracking causing contamination of drinking wells was just not enough.
Scaring people and nudging them on nuclear was not enough.
Pretty soon, EPA will require all private wells to be closed and everyone purchase water.
Europe has milk with a two month shelf life. Carter made sure no one could ‘radiate’ milk and give it a shelf life. The leftists Franken Scare the People crowd have to keep their income stream.
We had 34 nuclear permits under process 9 years ago. Then it dropped to 4. Now they are slow walked and on hold. I guess it will take a hunger games catastrophe of starving energy away from California and DC before the idjits get a clue. How sad.

Reply to  empiresentry
August 18, 2015 12:01 pm

“Then it dropped to 4. Now they are slow walked and on hold.”
Don’t know which you are talking about, but there are 4 in the southeast that
are quite active, and should be going on line within 5 years.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  empiresentry
August 18, 2015 10:48 pm

In the following phrase, I believe you mean prefecture.
The number of people that died from evacuation of the Fukushima reactor:
Some 300,000 people evacuated their homes in the prefecture
deaths relating to this displacement – around 1,600
Close to 16,000 people were killed across Japan as a direct result of the earthquake and tsunami
Ref: source

James Bull
Reply to  John F. Hultquist
August 19, 2015 12:33 am

It always gets me that people talk as if the Fukushima incident was as a result of something going wrong at the plant not that it was swamped by a big wave that did much damage to all the safety and backup equipment. Ok they might have built the emergency gens uphill of the plant rather than nearer the sea but hindsight is a great thing.
If you don’t learn from the past you repeat it’s mistakes.
James Bull

August 18, 2015 11:16 am

“For example, we get more radiation in a banana…”
The press release doesn’t mention radiation hazard. It says:
“Prior research has suggested that prolonged drinking of uranium-contaminated water may lead, or make people more susceptible, to kidney damage and elevated blood pressure.”
Uranium is a heavy metal. Biologically, its oxidised chemistry is likely similar to hexavalent chromium.

michael hart
Reply to  Nick Stokes
August 19, 2015 6:20 am

Uranium is a heavy metal. Biologically, its oxidised chemistry is likely similar to hexavalent chromium.

No. Likely not.
Uranium is in the dull f-block, Chromium is in the more exiting d-block. Different as chalk and cheese.
Hexavalent Chromium is toxic because it traverses the cell membranes and is then trapped inside the cell after being reduced to lower valent states. This property means [Cr51] is in fact routinely used in biological assays as a measure of cell integrity:chromium release is an indicator of cell death or membrane disruption.
Uranium nitrate may show (chemical) toxicity at high doses (above 450 microg U L(-1) in one study* but rapidly rapidly washes out of tissue, as expected.

August 18, 2015 11:19 am

If it glows in the dark, it might not be safe.

Reply to  sophocles
August 18, 2015 1:48 pm

If it glows in the dark and is unshielded, run away.

August 18, 2015 11:19 am

With a quick look, I didn’t find 50-year-old samples, but here’s mention of 1970s samples:

DD More
Reply to  AnonyMoose
August 18, 2015 2:17 pm

The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) was built in 1949 on the northeast edge of the Snake River Plain. The Site lies near the base of the Pioneer, Lost River, and Lemhi mountain ranges. People have lived in the area for 10,000 years, and INL is on a part of the indigenous lands of the Shoshone and Bannock peoples, who have ceremonial sites there still.INL sits on the upstream end of the Snake River Aquifer. The aquifer, which underlies 10,000 square miles of Idaho’s high desert, holds as much water as Lake Erie. After it flows beneath the Site, it continues westward, providing water for the Magic Valley, one of the state’s richest agricultural regions with a growing population and diversifying economy.
Two of the greatest threats to the Snake River Aquifer are direct results of Idaho’s participation in the nuclear weapons production complex.
Plutonium-contaminated waste from the Rocky Flats trigger factory was buried in unlined pits at INL and has been a matter of public concern since the 1960s.
The other major threat now being addressed is from liquid high-level waste stored in buried tanks above the aquifer. High-level waste comes from reprocessing irradiated nuclear reactor fuel and contains 99% of the radioactivity that results from nuclear bomb production.
All told, cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory will cost more than $22 billion and take about half a century. Even after all of that, Idaho’s land and drinking water will be polluted with nuclear contamination until the end of time.
Roommate in college lived on the south side of the Snake River Canyon and pointed out the springs feeding out the the aquifer in 1979. A lot of testing for rates, flows and exposure. All this and it only rates a ‘yellow’ on the map?

Reply to  AnonyMoose
August 18, 2015 9:40 pm

Here is another source:

Svend Ferdinandsen
August 18, 2015 11:25 am

If the wells have too much uranium, then just use surface water. Ahem, if EPA has not destroyed it.
In most cases the problem is that the measuring equipment has improved more than common sense.

August 18, 2015 11:26 am

I was just reading somewhere that among the predictions that Dr. Ehrlich made back in the 1970’s was that human life expectancy would drop to 47 years by the year 2000. Just what is the current life expectancy in the areas where all the supposed contamination in the food supply and water needing to be watched? I also note on the map that over there in the east near New York and Pennsylvania there are a whole lot of the little red dots without those alarming blue dots that are supposed to “activate” the solubility of the uranium. Hmmm maybe that Granite that GPearse referenced above is a more telling predictor of concentrations of soluble uranium?

Reply to  fossilsage
August 18, 2015 11:44 am

47! OMG, I’m over due!

August 18, 2015 11:26 am

The Ogallala (name of the High Plains system) is a very slow recharge aquifer averaging 0.024 inches per year. The original depth below the surface was about 200 feet but the water level is dropping rapidly due to lack of recharge. It would take rainfall about 8000 years to reach the top of the water level but it is in an arid part of the nation so recharge is slowed even more. There is also a caliche barrier across part of the aquifer.
The matrix in the Ogallala is paleowater having been charged in the last glacial. Given the characteristics of the aquifer, it seems probable to me that the Uranium was deposited with the aquifer rock about 6 million years ago. As a final piece of the puzzle, Uranium is found on the surface across a broad area in the southern end of the Ogallala in West Texas’

Phillip Bratby
August 18, 2015 11:48 am

Well low level radiation is good for people. Radiation hormesis it’s called.

Reply to  Phillip Bratby
August 18, 2015 6:32 pm

“Radiation hormesis is the hypothesis that low doses of ionizing radiation (within the region of and just above natural background levels) are beneficial, stimulating the activation of repair mechanisms that protect against disease, that are not activated in absence of ionizing radiation”.
Currently disagreement about whether it works …….
And to test it properly you need to compare organisms grown in a radiation free environment with those grown with varying degrees of background radiation. So you need to be able to grow critters in a location with no background radiation and feed them radiation free food. You would have to remove the radioactive isotopes of carbon and potassium from food. Not easy
But if you want a dose of background radiation why not go for a walk in the park or along the beach ?

August 18, 2015 12:00 pm

Given the handling of this by the press, I’d say it’s a trial balloon for a new topic for alarmists.

August 18, 2015 12:03 pm

Uranium is not the problem, radium is.
There are solutions to these things, but folks have to spend money on them. I’m more worried about other stuff, personally.

August 18, 2015 12:03 pm

“The uranium and nitrate levels of the California-based Central Valley aquifer measured up to 180 and 34 times their respective EPA thresholds.”
This isn’t the language of science, it is the language of sensationalist journalism. The don’t give actual values, only the “timeses.”

August 18, 2015 12:05 pm

I participated in a training course on the use of a certain spectroscopy instrument. The instructor showed us that he could find uranium in the dust that was in every office hallway.

August 18, 2015 12:20 pm

It’s not like naturally found water is “pure” everywhere except these locations and “pure” of all toxins except uranium. What about lead, asbestos, sporidia, dioxin, estrogenic compounds et cetera, ad nauseum? This BEFORE we even dare question whether the fluoride, trihalomethane, bromates, and ferric sulfate municipal systems deliberately add into the water supply are risking anything comparable to the public health as the risk they are attempting to mitigate.
For that matter, in Portland Oregon last year, officials apparently panicked when a teenager was videotaped urinating into Mount Tabor Reservoir No. 5, contaminating 38 million gallons of already treated drinking water with about six ounces of (alcohol and marijuana laced) pee. Or so I assume.
There is *stuff* in water. Cope.

Leo Smith
Reply to  pouncer
August 19, 2015 2:52 am

Me drink water? Yuk! Fish £uck in it!

August 18, 2015 12:25 pm

I went and read the EPA stuff. Their 30ug/L standard is also the WHO recommended level. Developed using a number of rat, rabbit, and dog lab studies plus human epidemiology in Canada, Norway, and Finland where naturally high uranium well water occurs. There is a good 23 page WHO precis overviewing all the the studies easily googled.
The problem is not radioactivity. AW is right about the potassium in bananas. It is heavy metal kidney damage, dose and lengthnof exposure dependent progressive and irreversible nephritis. So indeed this is a potential animal/health problem. Up to 95% can be removed by simple coagulation with iron sulfate. Works for municipal water supplies. That might not be feasible for isolated farms. Dunno. But reverse osmosis (removes 99%) is a solution for isolated contaminated farms; same type and size system as used for desalination on oceangoing yachts.
Main ‘irrigation/soil’ food uptake is certain root vegetables (potatos, sweet potatos, turnips). Not much grown over the Ogallalla and Central aquifers. Drinking water would be the main concern. For which WHO already highlights two different readily available solutions.
Problem maybe sometimes? This paper says yes, depending on the well. Cause for alarm, definitely not. Simple adaptation where needed. Total research time: 5 min EPA, <5 min Google to find WHO, 15 minutes to read and understand the WHO white paper.

Mike the Morlock
August 18, 2015 12:42 pm

Hmmmm, lets see they say The study reports “that 78 percent of the uranium-contaminated sites were linked to the presence of nitrate, a common groundwater contaminant that originates mainly from chemical fertilizers and animal waste. Nitrate mobilizes naturally occurring uranium through a series of bacterial and chemical reactions that oxidize the radioactive mineral, making it soluble in groundwater.”
Fertilizers, well golly how do we get the use of those fertilizers down. Hmmm did I read some where that higher levels of CO2 means less need for expensive bulky fertilizers? Are these folks saying that all we have to do is rise the CO2 level a bit and we get less radioactivity? Anyone thinking what I’m thinking

Sweet Old Bob
August 18, 2015 12:47 pm

…Farm-related pollution ? How do they know it isn’t urban-related ? Over application of fertilizer and chemicals is much more common in the city than on the farm…(8>((

Joel O’Bryan
August 18, 2015 12:53 pm

nitrate pollution from large animal feedlots, and dairy operations is a serious concern

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
August 18, 2015 3:37 pm

JB, sometimes true–and sometims not. I own a 350 head Wisconsin dairy operation on several hundred acres. Three submersible pump wells, all within 100 meters of the three barns (of course), into two aquifers (~60, ~120 feet down). All test pure, period. And the shallowest 60 foot aquifer (nearest the house, the one from which we draw our tap water, and closest ‘downstream’ from the most intensive ‘nitrate/E. coli barn– about 50 meters uphill) tested pure when drilled, and retests pure each time. Mandatory in Wisconsin, given our level of milk and cheese producing cow pooh. Oh, we produce about 1.8 million pounds of milk per year. Never calculated pounds of cow pooh per pound of milk before. A new reseach project…But given the size of our 150 hp manure spreaders, a lot!
Old Ma Gaia has amazing ways to solve problems like nitrates. AKA soil bacteria. And such.

Roger Dewhurst
August 18, 2015 1:25 pm

Read up on sedimentary uranium deposits of which those in Wyoming ate typical. Uranium is mobile in an oxidising environment and is deposited in a reducing environment.

James at 48
August 18, 2015 1:29 pm

The real problem with Nitrates is at sea. It obviously contributes to algal and plankton blooms. It actually really does acidify the waters.

August 18, 2015 1:42 pm

My cat drank some of that radioactive water. Now the poor thing has eighteen half-lives….

Reply to  Science Officer
August 18, 2015 7:12 pm


The Original Mike M
August 18, 2015 2:13 pm

In response to the Fukashima disaster, Ann Coulter set off a fire-storm in 2011 with an interesting column she wrote about potential heath benefits associated with trace levels of radiation – Our life expectancy keeps going up, maybe it’s this uranium diet “thing”?

Bob F
Reply to  The Original Mike M
August 19, 2015 7:06 am

There was an excellent BBC Horizon program a few years ago about the aftermath of Chernobyl. The presumption is that there is no safe dose of radioactive material. The program suggested that this wasn’t the case and that there really was no evidence that the fallout from Chernobyl had any measurable effect on life expectancy (apart from the poor souls who swept the reactor contents back into the smoldering hole in the ground on the first couple of days).
Worth tracking down.

Mark Luhman
Reply to  The Original Mike M
August 19, 2015 6:49 pm

Oblivious Mike some people don’t like the truth, it seams you are one of them, If you don’t think she researched her column you are sadly mistaken.

Berényi Péter
August 18, 2015 2:45 pm

Excellent. At 30 µg/l Uranium content of groundwater its energy (2700 kJ/l) is more than enough to evaporate it (2257 kJ/l), so distilled water can be produced for free 😉

Bruce of Newcastle
August 18, 2015 2:56 pm

The lack of understanding by the public is breathtaking. For example the typical uranium content of the soil in your garden is about 2 or 3 ppm. That is more uranium than a good gold mine has gold in it. I wonder how many gardeners would panic and never garden again if they were told that.
Indeed if you take a typical house and dug up and processed the top 10 metres of dirt you could produce enough uranium for one or two nuclear weapons, provided you have a breeder reactor available to turn it into plutonium.

Paul Westhaver
August 18, 2015 5:05 pm

I used to be a nuclear engineer at a Nuclear plant.
I was exposed to a broad array of ionizing radiation while working there. I even stood on top of the remote mechanism deck of a 2000 GMW reactor when it was running at full power as part of my radiation training.
My most tense encounter was after a full body scan when all the alarms went off, RED LIGHTS blinking alarms buzzing and an urgent female voice shouting CONTAMINATED CONTAMINATED. I had to sit and wait 30 mins until it all decayed away.
I was exposed to Radon. It is natural in granite and I was just previously checking out the instrumentation lines in a long deep tunnel dug to the ocean through solid granite. I wasn’t even in a “Radiation Zone” I was in a non-radiation pumping facility.
The Radon was attracted to my polyester shirt.
I wore pressed cotton shirts thereafter to avoid the false positive alarms and the constant ribbing by my coworkers.
I wore a radiation badge. I got more radiation from the sun during lunch break than from the reactor.

Keith Willshaw
Reply to  Paul Westhaver
August 19, 2015 6:17 am

I recall that when working on Dungeness B power station we had a major scare one day at shift change when the rad alarm at the entry gate went off. The problem was found to be an old U-boat chronometer one of the workers had brought in to show his mates. This had a luminous dial painted with radium and was so radioactive the only place we could legally keep it was the high level source store. In the end it had to be confiscated and went into the high level waste treatment bin.

Paul Westhaver
Reply to  Keith Willshaw
August 19, 2015 11:00 am

That is amusing. Have you seen this?comment image?w=450

Reply to  Keith Willshaw
August 23, 2015 11:08 pm

I have an original B-17 bomber altimeter with radium dial painted by the Radium Girls who gave their lives to US Radium and Westclox. It has always been missing the lead glass front and rim and seal across the front of it, exposing the radium dial. It’s so hot it pegs every detector I own (6) when brought within 3 feet of that dial. I keep it in my outdoor shed, now, but used to use it as a sensitive barometer, with its rotating digital Kolsman (sp) window on my desk for decades before I found its radium dial’s hazard.

James at 48
Reply to  Paul Westhaver
August 19, 2015 11:48 am

I got hit with accidental radiation when I was 17 years old (accident due to incorrectly positioned shielding and collimator parts – beam hit them dead on, much heck ensued). I survived. Didn’t even fall ill.

August 18, 2015 5:33 pm

“The study reports that 78 percent of the uranium-contaminated sites were linked to the presence of nitrate, a common groundwater contaminant that originates mainly from chemical fertilizers and animal waste. Nitrate mobilizes naturally occurring uranium through a series of bacterial and chemical reactions that oxidize the radioactive mineral, making it soluble in groundwater.”
Even now I am amazed at the vitriol and abuse and endless scientific codswallop from the organic activists. And I have been subjected to it for 40 years, so it should take a lot to surprise me.
Atmospheric Nitrogen, nitrous oxide, nitrates and nitrites are all such useful, life-giving compounds– it is hard to imagine a generation that has become so fearful and hateful of these gases, elements, and chemicals. It took humanity soooo long to figure out that nitrogen supports plant growth better than throwing virgins and volcanoes ever did!

August 18, 2015 5:40 pm

“The Presence of NItrate Fertilizers”
Let’s just ask her to make our crops grow instead!

Paul Westhaver
Reply to  Zeke
August 18, 2015 6:13 pm


Reply to  Paul Westhaver
August 18, 2015 6:31 pm

Hellenistic Idol. Located in Greek colonies, temples, banks, and market places. Appealed to for protection and good crops. Tend to lose noses and appendages.

Paul Westhaver
Reply to  Paul Westhaver
August 18, 2015 7:14 pm

Hmmm I recall a pre-adolescent fantasy…I think… it has been a long time…maybe it was someone else.

Jimmy Finley
August 18, 2015 8:34 pm

The area around Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, and west Texas is loaded with uranium. This is where “roll-front uranium deposits” were first described – and then mined, including by underground mines, open pits, and lately, in-situ solution mining. Uranium was initially deposited in volcanic tuffs – ashy or really, glassy material blown out of dacitic-rhyolitic volcanoes throughout the region, extending down into NE Mexico. In lavas of this nature, uranium – which has no home in rock-forming crystal structures – is concentrated. When the volcano erupts, it spews out billions of tons of glassy materials and gasses. These tuff deposits can measure in hundreds of cubic kilometers. Uranium is part of the package. It attaches to the glassy particles, and once deposited, is easily leached away by oxygenated (and carbonic acid-bearing) ground waters. It enters into the aquifers, and travels until it reaches a point where the aquifer’s chemistry changes from oxidizing to reducing. At that point the uranium is deposited out. Over time, this is repeated again and again. The “roll front” (a remarkable “C” shaped entity) migrates down the hydrologic gradient, becoming more and more enriched in U as it is redissolved, transport and redeposited.
Southwest Texas has hundreds of such roll fronts, many of them within a few hundred feet of the surface. These things were being formed before any humans occupied the area. Nitrate may help to leach the U from the parent rocks, but O2 and CO2 do a great job. I spent three years of my career as a geologist managing the exploration, development and mining of these fascinating deposits until Three Mile Island (a popcorn fart of a catastrophe) destroyed the uranium industry in the 1970’s.

August 19, 2015 2:11 am

I am concerned that we may be exposed to something we are not measuring!!!!!!
What can we do? /sarc

old construction worker
Reply to  steverichards1984
August 19, 2015 4:04 am

” we may be exposed to something we are not measuring.” Yes, BS. ” What can we do?” Don’t step in it.

old construction worker
August 19, 2015 4:02 am

EPA wants to regulate all water. University of Nebraska fines an another reason for the EPA to do so. EPA gets its wish with the help of a future congress, president or the court system. Fellow the money: EPA – NSF- .University of Nebraska : This is the “good, old boys” network of the science community regardless of how well the study was done. Where is the Data Quality Act when you need it? When will all the data and method used in studies see the sun light ? When ill all computer models used for future predictions be V and V?

Keith Willshaw
August 19, 2015 6:12 am

So the report states for food
“The daily intake of uranium from food sources ranges from 0.6 to 1.0 pCi/day (0.9–1.5 µg/day).”
For inhalation the amount is negligible and in drinking water its 0.8 pCi/L/day
So lets err on the side of caution and work with an estimate of 3 µg/day.
WHO studies show the following
“For various endpoints and animal species ATSDR reported minimal effect levels in the
range of 1 to 10 mg/kg of body weight per day (ATSDR, 1999). For example Ortega,
(1989) observed adverse effects with rats at exposure levels, via ingestion, of 1.1 mg/kg
per day. For cattle and sheep Puls (1990) reported that minimal effects are associated
with a daily uranium intake of 400 or 50 mg U, respectively (corresponding to 1 mg
U/kg of body weight for both species).”
This is stating that an animal with a body weight of 100 kg would need to be ingesting
100 mg/day which is 100,000 µg/day in order to display even minimal harm
I don’t see an intake of 3 µg/day as being very scary. In fact a European Food Safety study showed that tap and bottled water on average contained 2 μg/L on average. The good news is that beer and soft drinks has half this level.
So the answer seems to be if you are worried drink beer and soda 🙂

August 19, 2015 8:00 am

[Fake email address. ~mod.]

August 19, 2015 1:11 pm

This isn’t a nuclear story, but an anti-fertiliser story: The reason given is “human-contributed” nitrate mobilising the Uranium salts. Now, having studied the nitrate cycle quite extensively I would love to see how they can separate “human” nitrate from the action of nitrifying bacteria in the soil. They are chemically identical.
Experiments over many years in the UK showed that the greatest release of nitrate into groundwater did not come from chemical fertlizers, but from breakdown of organic nitrogen compounds by soil bacteria followed by leaching during winter rains. This is the basis for the ‘brown field’ restrictions put in place across the EU – farmers are encouraged (often by fines for not doing it) to plant a winter catch crop which will take up the nitrates released over the autumn and winter. See how few brown, ploughed fields you see these days in comparison to the past. Yes, much of this is winter-sown crops, but even that is a response to the policies of avoiding bare fields as getting fields planted early enough for over-wintering requires much more work for farmers.
This article is just another “humans are bad for the world” beat up.

August 20, 2015 11:59 am

I spent some months in 2008 in North Queensland, Australia, mapping and sampling the uraniferous Toolebuc Formation. Both my assistant and I were armed with personal radiation monitors as well as a scintillometer and a spectrometer. At the end of a 3-month field stint, our personal radiation monitors were sent for analysis to a government agency which informed us that we were approaching the limit of permissible radiation exposure. By far the most predominant radiation was stated as being due to sunlight. Go figure.

August 23, 2015 10:59 pm

I sent a sample of my laboratory distiller’s output to a friend’s medical lab in a major university. My water refuses to conduct electrical current after passing through its column of C12 to remove distillable contaminants like benzene, etc., which infects our city water. Drinking this prevents me from passing painful kidney stones from our water’s heavy dissolved calcium load.
My friend asked me where I got such a fine specimen. He was astonished it came from my kitchen. I’ve been drinking it for over 30 years and every time I read about water contamination I smile and fill another sanitized glass jug.

April 28, 2017 8:08 am

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