This information on uranium in drinking water has been prepared by Nova Scotia Environment. It answers some of the most common questions and concerns.
What is uranium?
Uranium is a common element that exists naturally in soil and rock throughout the world. It is radioactive. In Nova Scotia, the concentration of uranium in the soil, on average, is three parts of uranium for one million parts of soil. The soil in the rest of Canada has about the same concentration of uranium. Concentrations vary across Nova Scotia, depending on the type of minerals in the soil or bedrock. For example, in granite bedrock, the average concentrations can be higher.
How does uranium get into drinking water?
Uranium gets into drinking water when groundwater dissolves minerals that contain uranium. Elevated levels of uranium are more likely to be found in drilled wells than in dug wells or surface water supplies. The amount of uranium in well water varies throughout Nova Scotia with the concentration of uranium in the bedrock. Wells most likely to have high levels of uranium are those in areas with granite or alkaline sandstone and shale bedrock. Large areas of mainland Nova Scotia have granite bedrock; the northwestern part of the province has alkaline sandstone and shale.
What is the effect of uranium on our health?
In drinking water, the chemical properties of uranium are of greater concern than its radioactivity. Studies show that elevated levels of uranium in drinking water can affect the kidneys. In Nova Scotia, uranium levels in drinking water are between 0.005 and 0.83 milligrams per litre (mg/L). The Canadian guideline for uranium in drinking water is 0.02 mg/L.
How do I know if I have uranium in my drinking water?
To find out if you have uranium in your drinking water you must test for it. You can have your well water tested by a private laboratory here in Nova Scotia. There is a list of labs that can test your water for uranium at the end of this fact sheet. To see if you are in a high-risk area, you can check a map that shows where wells in Nova Scotia are most likely to contain uranium. Call the Nova Scotia Environment office nearest you for more information.
What can I do if the uranium in my drinking water is above the Canadian guideline?
If tests show that the amount of uranium in your well water is above the Canadian guideline, you can do one of three things:
- switch to a dug well or surface water
- use bottled water
- treat the water in your well
There are two main ways to get rid of uranium in drinking water. They are described in two fact sheets from Nova Scotia Environment, Removing Uranium from Drinking Water Using Reverse Osmosis (RO) and Removing Uranium from Drinking Water Using Distillation.
You asked about... is a series of fact sheets produced by Nova Scotia Environment. For additional copies, contact the regional or head office nearest you.
Bedford: (902) 424-7773
Halifax: (902) 424-3600
Kentville: (902) 679-6086
Sydney: (902) 563-2100
Truro: (902) 893-5880
For More Information Health Canada (1996) Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality 6th ed., Government of Canada. Available through the Government Publications Web page or from Canada Communications Group-Publishing, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0S9
Grantham, D. (1986) The Occurrence and Significance of Uranium, Radium and Radon in Water Supplies in Nova Scotia: A report of the investigation carried out by the provincial uranium task force. Department of Health. Province of Nova Scotia.
Labs that test for uranium in drinking water:
QEII Health Sciences Centre
Environmental Chemistry Laboratory, Halifax
Maxxam Analytics Inc., Bedford
Maxxam Analytics Inc., Sydney
11 Morris Dr, Unit 122 Dartmouth, NS