Uranium occurs in nature and is mildly radioactive. It exists in the environment at low levels and most people are exposed to harmless amounts. Dust containing uranium can settle onto water, land, and plants. When uranium enters the food or water supply, it can lead to more dangerous human exposure.
The Environmental Protection Agency considers drinking water to be safe if the level of uranium is .03 mg/L or lower.
(Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry)
The most common way that people are exposed to uranium is through
- Food or drinking water
- In most places in the US, there is some uranium in the drinking water
- In areas with higher concentration of uranium, higher levels of uranium can exist in drinking water
- Consumption of root crops grown in soil that is contaminated with uranium
- Proximity to uranium mining, processing, or manufacturing
- Proximity to areas where depleted uranium weapons have been used
Testing for Uranium
If you suspect that your drinking water contains high levels of uranium, have your water tested.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment can provide testing for uranium for $20. Other labs may also provide the test. To ensure results are accurate, be sure to follow instructions for collection provided by the lab.
Colorado HELP Line
The Colorado HELP line is available at 303-389-1687 or 877-462-2911 to answer questions about uranium or water testing.
Most of the uranium you breathe or ingest is not absorbed and leaves the body within a few days. Only about 0.1–6% of the uranium a person ingests will get into the bloodstream through the gastrointestinal tract (mouth, stomach, intestines). Uranium compounds that dissolve in water enter the bloodstream more easily than uranium compounds poorly soluble in water. It is safe to take baths using untreated water because uranium or radium is not absorbed through skin.
Uranium Exposure Can Damage Kidneys
The health effects of uranium exposure are due to chemical effects and not to radiation. Uranium’s main target is the kidneys. Kidney damage has been seen in humans and animals after inhaling or ingesting uranium compounds.
No health effects, other than kidney damage, have been consistently found in humans after inhaling or ingesting uranium compounds or in soldiers with uranium metal fragments in their bodies. Neither the National Toxicology Program (NTP), International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), nor the EPA have classified natural uranium or depleted uranium with respect to carcinogenicity.
Like adults, children are exposed to small amounts of uranium in air, food, and drinking water. No data describe the effects of exposure to uranium on children. Although it’s likely that children would likely show the same health effects as adults, it’s unknown if children are more susceptible than adults to uranium effects. It is also unknown if uranium can harm an unborn child.
Seek Medical Advice if Tests Show High Uranium Levels
If your drinking water test results show uranium levels higher than .03 mg/L, contact your health care provider for further testing.
Uranium Can Be Filtered Out
Several technologies are available that are effective in removing uranium from drinking water. For most households, a single point of use treatment system on the drinking water tap will be sufficient to provide safe water for drinking. Point of use reverse osmosis (RO) and distillation treatment will remove many different contaminants from your drinking water, including uranium and radium.
Share Your Test Results & Help Your Community
To better understand the water quality in your area, we would be grateful if you would share your results with us. We will not share individual results with anyone.
To share your results you can:
- Sign a waiver when you submit your water for testing that allows it to be released to us OR
- Upload your test results
Radon, Radium, & Uranium
Radon and radium are radioactive decay products of uranium. This means that homes with high levels of uranium in the drinking water also have a high risk of high levels of radon. If you have not tested your home for radon, we highly recommend that you do.