What’s in the Water?

open-pit-uranium-mine-110307

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

16 Comments

Filed under Sustainable Living

16 responses to “What’s in the Water?

  1. Jon

    While I understand that you are concerned, I think it is reckless to call for someone to be fired when you really don’t know much about them. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know anything about them either, but I would leave the decision of whether or not they should be fired to the people that are involved in the situation.

  2. Wow, it’s scary stuff, isn’t it? We really just have no idea how many toxins we are exposed to.

  3. I too would be concerned if an elected official was aware of information that could affect (or harm) the health of many people, especially children, and chose not to do anything about it.

    On a similar note, today was the rally to clean up the Chesapeake Bay here in D.C. Reason being? The E.P.A. is doing nothing to enforce the reduction of pollution of this major watershed. While I may be naive, it is saddening and disappointing to know that our major government officials and agencies do nothing with the information they have to protect and clean up our environment. To these individuals and organizations, I ask, what kind of world do you wish to welcome your children to?

  4. Jon- I disagree. This man was negligent and acted on his own, without telling any other town officials. He didn’t do his job, which is to protect the health of townspeople.

    GB and Jessica- I agree, it’s scary and frustrating when we don’t know what the pollutants are an the agencies in charge of protecting our health fail to act.

  5. Jon

    farmersdaughter – I disagree with you. The state “expert” at the meeting said that he has seen levels of uranium over 1000 ppb cause no adverse effects. That is way more than the 110 they had at the school. also, 30 ppb = 0.000003% and 110 ppb = 0.000011%. Big Deal.

  6. Jon- I agree that nobody will probably be affected by it, or it will be tough to prove it hurt anybody. In the past, we couldn’t even measure ppb, only ppm so we wouldn’t have even known it was there. It’s the withholding information by a public official that I take issue with.

  7. Jon

    F.D. – but he was “witholding” useless information that wells in the area had uranium in them, which like radon, comes from rocks, which all wells are drilled through, therefore, all wells are contaminated with uranium, radon, and probably asbestos.

  8. Jon- You’re again correct. However, it’s the high level that’s the problem. I’m pretty sure he’s in violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

  9. Jon

    I disagree, if someone had gone in and said “do you know if there are high levels of uranium in surrounding wells?” and then he said “NO”, he would then be in violation, but nobody requested the info… its kind of like dont ask dont tell…

  10. OK you’ve got me there… but what about integrity?

  11. Jon

    he was afraid of causing unnecessary panic which would have caused deadly stampedes. he was always looking out for the best interest of the residents of Madison.

  12. Abbie, this reminds me of an incident a few years ago. My mom lives in a resort area and her condominium complex attracts families with children of all ages. I also take my children to visit and they are allowed to wander around on the sand dunes and the pool and the sound by themselves.

    A new resident moved into the complex and I happened to find him on the Sex Offender registry, not just a slight offense, either. It turns out the HOA Directors knew about this and had spoken to an attorney who told them they were under no legal obligation to inform anyone else. Talk about moral integrity…..

    Gee, do you ever get the feeling people are only looking out for their own interests??

  13. Beekeeper's Daughter (see: Avery)

    I just wasted 10minutes sleuthing the odds of dying in a stampede, which nobody has ever bothered to quantify (shocker!)
    I did find that U’s LD50 in rats is some obscene amount like 1.0g/kg, and “…there has never been a death attributable to uranium poisoning in humans, and humans seem to be less sensitive to…effects of U than other mammalian species…” This same report (Kathren RL, et al; 2008. Acute chemical toxicity of uranium. Health Physics) suggests that data, although sparse, is sufficient to conclude that the LD50 for oral intake in humans is >several grams U.
    Ok, so nobody was worried about dying; that article might not do much to dissuage concerns about other deleterious effects of uranium consumption. But seriously, we’re not supposed to drink water from plastic bottles b/c it’s bad for the environment (in turn, bad for us), if we reuse the bottle then BPA will wreak havoc on our health, and now 110pp BILLION is enough to halt the faucets in Madison?
    I wouldn’t worry, unless my kid is part camel.
    … and if my kid sprouts a third (cancer-riddled, of course) arm from his belly button in 30yrs, I’ll pretend I never wrote this.

    Also, parties interested in risk/benefit assessment should read: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,151482,00.html

  14. Beekeeper's Daughter

    also when I was looking for stampede-themed trivia, I found the craziest website EVER
    http://www.crowddynamics.com/Disasters/death_by_human_stampedes.htm

    I probably could have just emailed this to Jon & Aaron.

  15. Ave- er, um Beekeeper’s Daughter, I agree whole heartedly with much of what you said. I think the bottled-water solution is a poor one. I also realize that most-likely nothing will happen. I take biggest issue with the fact that it was handled so poorly by the Health Director.
    However, I would say that the EPA is overly cautious to not set unnecessary limits on pollutants (and some people would like them to be more strict). So if the EPA feels this is an unsafe amount of Uranium in the water, I’m convinced.

  16. Jon

    Wow… after going to the link in Beekeepers Daught.’s post, I propose that there should be a law forbidding more than 5 people to be in a 10ft x 10ft or smaller space at any one time to prevent crushing deaths. I am being serious, this is not a joke, click on her link.

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