Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Genoa City to go to bid to get radium out of the water

by Chris Schultz

April 21, 2011

Genoa City — The village wants to be proactive in reducing the amount of radium in its drinking water.

The village board on Thursday voted to go out for bids on a modification that will allow the village's water treatment plant to remove most of the radium from the water.

State and federal regulations allow only 5 picocuries per liter, about five parts per billion, radium in municipal water, said Todd Schilling, village public works superintendent.

He said the radium in the water is a regulatory issue, not a health issue. Regulatory limits are set low to prevent health problems, he said.

The radium is naturally occurring, and entering the village's water system through Well 5, which is a deep well.

The village has been keeping the concentrations within state limits by blending Well 5 water with water from Well 4, Schiller said.

However the amount of radium varies in the Well 5 water samples, he said. The pump on Well 5 is designed to operate at 450 to 500 gallons per minute, Schiller said. To properly blend the water, the pump has to be dialed back to 190 to 200 gallons per minute, which is hard on the pump's valves, Schiller said.

The village could buy a variable speed pump for Well 5 for between $9,000 and $10,000. However, that means Well 5 will be tied to Well 4.

If something were to happen that stopped the village from pumping from Well 4, Well 5 would have to be shut down as well.

"If we lose Well 4, we lose Well 5," Schiller said. "We can't use unblended Well 5 water."

Buying the radium filtering system will allow the village to operate Well 5 independent of Well 4, he said. The system binds the radium to manganese, which is easily filtered from the water.

Cost of the water treatment system add-on is between $20,000 and $30,000, he said. Operational costs are about $4,000 a year.

The money for that improvement is in the budget, Schiller said.

Schiller said that when Well 5 was first pumped, the radium count was low. It has been creeping up over time. The amount of radium in the water now fluctuates.

Municipal water is tested quarterly for radium and averaged over a one-year period, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website. Water treatments can remove up to 90 percent of the radium from the water, the DNR site reported.

Ingested radium behaves similarly to calcium and is deposited in the tissues of the body, especially bone, according to information from the Illinois Department of Public Health.. Ingested radium emits alpha particles that may damage surrounding tissue.

According to the Wisconsin DNR website, the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that long-term exposure to elevated levels of radium in drinking water does pose a "higher risk of bone cancer for the people exposed." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that long-term consumption of water containing 5 picocuries of radium will cause 44 added cancer deaths for every million people exposed. The risk doubles to 88 per million at 10 picocuries and triples to 132 at 15 picocuries.

Reducing waterborne radium below 5 picocuries reduces the risk.

Put in perspective, the risks from radium in the water is about the same as the risk of dying from lightning strikes, or tornadoes and hurricanes, the DNR reported. And the risk from radium is manageable because radium can be largely removed from drinking water.

The DNR also states that any radium radiation received externally through showering or washing is not a hazard because it can't penetrate skin.