About five days ago, it was released that there’s Uranium in the well water at two schools in Madison, CT, a couple of towns over from here. My mom is Math Consultant at one of these schools.
I got a call from my mom on Friday to ask me about the effects of Uranium contaminated water on people. All I could say was “That’s bad.” I must confess that up until a few days ago, I didn’t know anything about it. Uranium isn’t something that people regularly test for in their well water. I know that when we talk about water contaminants in my classes, we tend to focus on lead, E. coli, copper, or some other common contaminant. However, I had never even thought about Uranium in water.
When most people think of Uranium, they think of the isotope that’s used for fuel in nuclear reactors. However, Uranium is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, in all different forms, some of them more dangerous than others. It appears that the Uranium in the water at these school is three times the limit set by the EPA for home well water. To read more about the contamination, see this letter from the Madison Superintendent of Schools. The school says that the CT Department of Public Health does not anticipate any medical effects as the result of drinking this water, but Uranium in drinking water has been linked to kidney problems, and as we all know, children are one of the most susceptible groups when it comes to problems caused by environmental factors.
It seemed that all people involved were concerned and that the town was dealing with the water issue appropriately, using only bottled water for cooking and drinking, and shutting off the water fountains. This is, at best, a short-term solution.
Then, the story came out in the New Haven Register today that one town official, the Department of Public Health Director, knew about the contamination for two years and did nothing. A resident who lives near the two schools tested his water, found the contamination, and alerted the Public Health Director. The Public Health Director did not tell anyone in the town, including school officials or First Selectman. The school got an anonymous letter a few weeks ago about the contamination, got the water tested, and took action as soon as the results came back.
This is something that concerns me for many reasons. As a resident of a nearby town, it’s scary to think that one town official could have information that directly affects my health or the health of my family, and keep it to himself. This is wrong on so many levels, but according to the newspaper article, there’s nothing specifically illegal about it. I am sure that lawsuits will follow, and plenty of parents will worry about their childrens’ health. I also think this will cause a lot of stress among children, who do not fully understand what Uranium is, but know it’s dangerous, and also know that it’s in their school water that they used to drink, wash their hands, and their school lunches have been cooked in. I hope that parents and teachers are doing their best to help children understand that the risks are relatively low, while also making sure that children avoid contact with the water and get the medical attention that they may need. Residents living around the schools most likely also have Uranium contaminated water, and they have unknowingly been exposed as well.
Based on the information available, I’d like to make two suggestions to the town of Madison:
- Get “city water” for the schools if there is not a filtration system that will remove the Uranium. If all of the groundwater is contaminated, then you need to pipe in clean water. The CT Water Company does test for Uranium and numerous other contaminants. Using bottled water as a long term solution is simply not an appropriate action, as the waste generated is excessive and the cost is high.
- Fire the Public Health Director. His actions are negligent and irresponsible, and he lacks the good judgement needed for such a position. I, for one, want to know what else he’s not telling the townspeople.
What do you think?