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Uranium Concentration in Community Water Systems: Annual Mean and Maximum Uranium Concentration (Micrograms per Liter), 1999 to 2021

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Why Is This Important?

Uranium (chemical symbol U) is a weakly radioactive heavy metal that occurs naturally in small amounts in the form of minerals, but it can be processed into a silver-colored metal. It is the heaviest naturally-occurring element that is almost as hard as steel and much denser than lead. Rocks, soil, surface and ground water, air, plants, and animals (including humans) all contain varying amounts of uranium. It can be released into the environment by wind and water erosion and volcanic eruptions. In surface water, uranium can travel long distances. Uranium deposited on land can be re-incorporated into soil, washed into surface water, taken up by plants or adsorbed onto plant roots. Because uranium is found in small amounts everywhere, people can take it into the body from the air, water, food, and soil. However, some geographic regions of the United States, particularly the southwestern states, such as New Mexico have concentrated natural deposits of uranium. For the general public, ingestion of drinking water and food, especially root vegetables, such as potatoes, parsnips, turnips or sweet potatoes grown in uranium-containing soil are the primary sources of uranium exposure. In New Mexico, people may also be exposed through inhalation of radon gas, which is a breakdown product of natural uranium, in their homes, if they live in an area where the amount of uranium (and radium) are high in rocks. In addition, people who own and/or use old uranium-glazed ceramic dishes or collect rock and minerals, may be exposed to uranium. Most of the ingested uranium in drinking water or food leaves the human body in feces and some is absorbed into the bloodstreams and distributed to the various organs. Most of this absorbed uranium is removed from the body by the kidneys and eliminated primarily in urine within a few days. However, some of this absorbed uranium is stored mainly in the liver, kidneys, and bone for many years. Some studies have shown small changes in the way kidneys work when people drink water with large amounts of uranium. These changes, however, seem to go away when people stop drinking this high uranium water. It is unclear what this means medically (see also: https://nmtracking.org/environ_exposure/water-qual_uranium/). Another potential health concern in areas where naturally high levels of uranium occur is the presence of indoor radon. Although not a concern for uranium exposure, bathing and showering with water that contains radon gas dissolved in it may be a health concern; inhalation of radon gas is associated with lung cancer development (More information on indoor radon can be found at https: https://nmtracking.org/environment/Radon.html). Uranium can enter drinking water through the ground or as run-off into surface water sources. Uranium levels in drinking water from most community water systems (CWS) are low, however, there is wide variation in the levels of uranium found in CWS supplies across New Mexico. People who use their private wells water for drinking are solely responsible for testing the water for arsenic (for information about laboratories certified to test drinking water and certified home treatment units visit https://nmtracking.org/environment/water/PrivateWells.html).

Definition

Uranium concentrations (in micrograms of uranium per liter of water or mcg/L) in community drinking water systems (CWS) are combined with information about each CWS (such as service population) to generate the following measures shown in this report: 1) statewide uranium concentration distribution in CWSs by mean and maximum over time, 2) annual distribution of mean and maximum uranium concentration for persons served by CWS and 3) annual distribution of mean and maximum uranium concentration by CWS. EPHT data queries -- https://nmtracking.org/dataportal/query/selection/water/WaterSelection.html -- provide detailed results by year for 1) mean uranium concentration by CWS for a select year, 2) maximum uranium concentration by CWS for a select year, 3) mean uranium concentration and the number of CWS by year, 4) maximum uranium concentration and the number of CWS by year, 5) mean uranium concentration and the number of persons served by year or 6) maximum uranium concentration and the number of persons served by year. Additionally, users may query the number of persons served and the number of CWS in the state for a select year. A CWS is a public water system (PWS) that serves year-round residents of a community, subdivision, or mobile home park that has at least 15 service connections or an average of at least 25 residents. These CWSs are a subset of all New Mexico PWSs. To measure uranium concentration in CWS, drinking water samples are usually taken at entry points to the distribution system or representative sampling points after water treatment has occurred. Data Source: New Mexico Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau, New Mexico Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS). Measured uranium concentrations in finished drinking water can be used to understand the distribution of potential uranium exposure level for populations served by community water supplies. Due to potential errors in estimating service population, the measures may overestimate or underestimate the number of potentially affected people. These measures allow for comparison of potential uranium exposure between the populations served by different water systems over time.

How the Measure is Calculated

  • Numerator:

    Concentration of uranium.
  • Denominator:

    Not applicable.

Health Topic Pages Related to: Community Water: Uranium Concentration

Community Health Resources and Links





Medical literature can be queried at the PubMed website.

Indicator Data Last Updated On 04/13/2022, Published on 04/18/2022
Environmental Health Epidemiology Bureau, Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, Epidemiology and Response Division, New Mexico Department of Health, 1190 S. Saint Francis Drive, Suite 1304, Santa Fe, NM 87505, Srikanth Paladugu, Bureau Chief, Srikanth.Paladugu@state.nm.us, Stephanie Moraga-Mchaley, Environmental Epidemiologist Supervisor, Stephanie.Moraga-Mc@state.nm.us ,or Brian Woods, Environmental Epidemiologist, brian.woods@state.nm.us