* yourhoustonnews.com * Courier * News Radiation contamination in two Montgomery County water systems
Terry on May 29th 2011
By James Ridgway Jr
The Courier of Montgomery County
Two county water systems contaminated with radiation
Houston, TX–Two public drinking water systems in Montgomery County have been reported as being contaminated with radiation.
Long-term exposure to the radionuclide contaminants within the water has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The Hulon Lakes Subdivision and Vista Verde Water Systems, both near Lake Conroe, have exceeded the Maximum Contaminate Levels (MCL) as regulated by the EPA.
Dr. Alicia Diehl, drinking water quality team leader with the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, said radionuclide contamination in drinking water occurs naturally.
“(Radiation) comes from all around, the sky, from the surrounding geology. Even if someone avoided drinking any water at all, all of us are exposed to radiation every year from natural sources,” Dr. Diehl said.
Elston Johnson, TCEQ manager of the public drinking water section, said in addition to radiation occurring naturally, the radiation levels present in aquifers fluctuates.
“The levels can vary from year to year, season to season, decade to decade. That’s the problem with monitoring radioactivity; a lot of factors play into it.”
However, even with fluctuating levels of radiation, Hulon Lakes and Vista Verde Water Systems have been cited multiple years in a row for exceeding maximum contaminate levels.
Janice Hayes, communications manager with the managing company overseeing Hulon Lakes public water, SouthWest Water Company, said they have only received one call regarding the radionuclide contamination as of their last quarterly notice.
“Currently, the one well that is creating the violation is off-line and the pump station associated with this well is isolated from the distribution system. Because the Gross Alpha levels are lower in the other wells, we have created an in-tank blending system which should result in lower levels of Gross Alpha. We will continue to test, monitor and make adjustments as needed,” Hayes said.
The owner/operator of the Vista Verde Water System declined comment.
Dr. Diehl said the maximum contaminate levels established by the EPA for radiochemicals are extremely protective of public health—“They are based on what would happen if someone drank about a half-gallon of (public) water, every day, for 70 years.”
Water analysts test for two primary radionuclide contaminates initially, Dr. Diehl said, adjusted gross alpha radiation and combined radium-226/228. The MCL for the former is 15 picoCurie/liter (pCi/l), and the latter 5 pCi/l. Public drinking water exceeding these MCLs has been connected to increased risk of cancer.
Dr. Diehl said, in the past, the EPA had considered radionuclide levels posing an unreasonable risk to public health to be twice the MCL. However, these levels did not necessarily consider all the potential factors, she said.
“The jury is still out on this particular concern,” she said.
While residents on a public drinking water system are protected by EPA regulations, Johnson said residents on private wells are on their own.
“Unfortunately for private well owners, private wells are not regulated. They have to do the same type of analysis that the public drinking water systems do,” Johnson said. “And there’s no quick field test that can really achieve the results a lab test yields.”
Across Texas, the public water systems contaminated with radionuclides frequently show up in clusters. Dr. Diehl said these clusters are a sign of geological similarities.
Although there is no public data reporting radionuclide levels on private wells in Montgomery County, Dr. Diehl said it is possible that private wells near the same vicinity of the contaminated public water systems may show increased radionuclide levels.
“When we talk to private citizens about these concerns, basically what we try to do is find out their level of risk aversion,” Dr. Diehl said. “Take a family with kids on a private well. They might have a real concern. But we don’t have the authority to tell them to do anything. I would ask what are they most concerned about. They would probably say ‘we are concerned about our kids drinking this water.’ Then we could talk about treatment options that they could use just to ensure that they had drinking water that met their own standard.”
More information on radionuclide contamination can be found under the water section of the TCEQ’s website found at www.tceq. state.tx.us. Specific details on individuals community water systems can also be searched on the TCEQ site.