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Georgia’s Water Testing and Education Program Includes Uranium and Radon

Reprinted and edited with permission of the author.

The Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories (AESL), University of Georgia (UGA), provides testing and educational programs for the public that address uranium and radon and their health effects, as well as other drinking water contaminants.

In Georgia, about 1.8 million people rely on 640,000 private wells for their drinking water supply. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD) enforces the USEPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) drinking water standards for human consumption in public water supplies according federal Safe Drinking Water Act. However, private wells are not regulated. Consequently, private well users are responsible for ensuring quality/safety of their water supplies for domestic, livestock, and irrigation through testing and treatment (if required). The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, through the Agricultural and AESL, has water testing and education programs on bacterial and chemical water quality and also provides other services.

Emerging contaminants of concern in Georgia drinking water include mitigation of uranium and radon. In 2010, the AESL found two emerging contaminants, uranium and arsenic, in some drinking water wells in Georgia. In response, the AESL and county extension personnel developed and delivered a testing, public education, and mitigation program.

Waters with uranium and radon concentrations above USEPA's maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 30 parts per billion (ppb) were detected in some private wells in Georgia. Uranium and radon in well water originates from naturally occurring granitic bedrock located primarily in deep wells in the Piedmont and Blue-Ridge (PBR) regions. Drinking of water that has contaminants above the MCL can cause serious human health problems.

Information about the existence of uranium and radon in Georgia well waters, their health consequences, and treatment systems to remove these contaminants from drinking water were incorporated in water quality circulars and made available to the public. A subsidized water testing program was initiated for well owners to test for uranium. The development team worked with UGA radon educators and Monroe county extension faculties to offer several public educational workshops about uranium in well waters and radon in indoor air to increase public awareness of the problems, the importance of testing, and appropriate treatment systems to remove these contaminants. This program drew attention of and established collaboration with the Monroe County Government, Georgia Department of Community Health, Georgia Department of Natural Resources/Environmental Protection Division, and USEPA.

As of March 8, 2017, the total number of water samples tested for uranium was 1240. Of these, 148 had detectable amounts of uranium (above 10 ppb) with 63 being above the 30 ppb MCL. One of the wells tested as high as 6297 ppb, which is more than 200 times higher than USEPA's MCL for uranium. All of these 63 samples were from the PBR regions above the “Fall Line.” The testing program for radon in water at AESL began on August 26, 2015. As of March 8, 2017, 75 well waters were tested for radon. Out of these 73 had detectable level of radon (100 pCi/L) with 45 exceeding the proposed MCL (300 pCi/L) and 14 exceeding the AMCL (4000 pCi/L). All of these 9 well water samples were from the areas above “Fall Line.” Recent conversations with residents and county officials from other places established a need for more public education, testing, and informational resources.

The UGA cooperative extension has been very active in developing various educational materials for the county extension faculties and general public. Numerous educational materials have been developed. For Water Quality Bulletins and Circulars (visit: http://aesl.ces.uga.edu/publications/watercirc/) and see:
• Circ.858-14. Uranium in Your Water
• Circ.858-16. Radon in Your Water
An online tool for “Drinking Water Interpretation and Recommendations” is available. (Visit: http://aesl.ces.uga.edu/water/recommendations/)

For more information, contact:

Uttam Kumar Saha, Ph.D.
Program Coordinator
Feed and Environmental Water Laboratory
The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension
2300 College Station Road, Athens, GA 30602, USA
Tel: +1-706-542-7690; Fax: +1-706-542-1494
E-mail: sahau@uga.edu
Chair, Drinking Water and Human Health Community of Practice
National eXtension