What is Uranium?
Uranium is a weakly radioactive heavy metal that occurs naturally. Rocks, soil, surface and ground water, air, plants, and animals (including humans) all contain varying amounts of uranium. Some geographical regions of the United States, particularly southwestern states such as New Mexico, have concentrated natural deposits of uranium and extensive historic uranium ore mining and milling activities. For these reasons, some areas may have higher than average uranium levels, which may result in increased human exposure.
Uranium in Private Wells, New Mexico
Levels of various naturally-occurring and man-made contaminants in New Mexico groundwater including uranium, might be elevated above the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safe Drinking Water standards. The safe drinking water concentration for uranium is 30 micrograms per liter (mcg/L) and some of the water samples from wells in north and south-central counties appear to exceed the Safe Drinking Water standard. Ongoing drought conditions and aquifer mining have raised further concern that increases in contaminants may occur in the absence of significant ground water recharge events.
Uranium levels in water samples from private wells vary between New Mexico counties and even within the same county. The groundwater system in New Mexico is very complex. This complexity can lead to large uranium concentration variability even amongst neighboring wells. To assure that the water is safe for human consumption, well owners should periodically test their wells.
The information available on this page, including the maps, demonstrates uranium found in tested private wells in New Mexico based on the data available from various sources.
Uranium and Health
People who drink water containing uranium in excess of EPA's standard and over many years could experience health problems. There are some possible health concerns related to the kidney from excessive exposure to uranium. The kidney is the most sensitive organ for uranium toxicity. Some studies have shown small changes in the way kidneys work when people drink water with large amounts of uranium for a long time (usually more than 2-5 years). These changes, however, seem to go away when people stop drinking this water with high-levels of uranium.
Reducing excessive exposure to uranium
There are practical steps you can take to minimize your exposure to uranium in water. Have private well drinking water tested for uranium. If uranium levels are high, consider various treatment/filtration options, or consuming water from a different source. See links to pages with testing and treatment options in the "Related Topics" section below.
How to find water quality information for public water systems
If your water comes from a public water supply, it will regularly be tested for uranium. See the environmental indicator report and queries in the "Explore Related Data" section below for uranium concentration in community water systems. For more information on public water systems, contact:
- Your community water system by telephone
- Look up your community water system online through the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) Drinking Water Watch
- Call the NMED Drinking Water Bureau, TOLL FREE 1-877-654-8720
Notifiable Diseases or Conditions in New Mexico (N.M.A.C 126.96.36.199)
Uranium in urine at a level greater than 0.2 mcg/L or 0.2 mcg/gram creatinine is reportable to the New Mexico Department of Health. Report to Epidemiology and Response Division, NM Department of Health, P.O. Box 26110, Santa Fe, NM 87502-6110; or call 505-827-0006.