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Drinking Water Safety

Is there uranium in my drinking water?

​​​​What is uranium?

Uranium is a common radioactive element that exists naturally all over the world. Uranium is used as fuel for nuclear power.

Where is uranium found?

In Alberta, there is uranium in certain types of soil and rocks, like granite bedrock, sandstone, and shale bedrock. There are also low levels of uranium in food, water, and air.

Other sources of uranium include:

  • waste (tailings) from milling (a process that turns uranium into a powder)
  • emissions from the nuclear industry
  • phosphate fertilizer production
  • burning coal or other fuels

How does uranium get into my water?

Uranium in well water comes from dissolving or eroding soils and rocks that contain uranium. You are more likely to have higher uranium levels in drilled wells when your water flows from cracks or fractures in bedrock compared to shallow wells and surface water supplies.

How does uranium affect my health?

You might be exposed to uranium if you breathe air, drink water, or eat food from areas that have high background levels of uranium. After uranium gets into your body this way, it quickly gets into your blood and then collects in your kidneys and bones. Uranium leaves your body very slowly when you pee (pass urine) and have bowel movements.

Kidney damage is the main health concern when you are exposed to uranium. Radiation from high levels of uranium is not known to cause cancer.

How do I know if there is uranium in my drinking water?

You can’t see, smell, or taste uranium. Your water can be tested to see how much uranium is in it. Learn more about testing your drinking water in Alberta.

If you use water from a private well or an untreated groundwater source, test your water regularly to make sure it’s safe. Make sure to use a lab that’s accredited to test for uranium.

All municipal (city or town) public water supplies are tested regularly for uranium. If needed, these water supplies are treated to keep uranium levels below the Health Canada standard of 0.02 mg/L (milligrams per litre). You can usually get the results of uranium testing by contacting your municipality.

What is the standard for levels of uranium in drinking water?

The maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) is the highest amount of a metal in drinking water that is safe for a person to drink. According to Health Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, the MAC for uranium in drinking water is 0.02 mg/L. This value is set to protect an average person from getting sick based on the average amount of water we drink.

What should I do if there are high levels of uranium in my drinking water?

If testing shows a uranium level in your drinking water that’s higher than 0.02 m​g/L:

  • Stop using the water and use water from another safe source to drink, cook, and brush your teeth. Safe water sources include municipal water systems or bottled water.
  • Test your drinking water supply again to confirm the results.
  • Talk to a professional water specialist to install a certified water treatment unit to remove uranium.

You can remove uranium fro​m drinking water with:

  • reverse osmosis (forcing water through a membrane that filters out minerals including uranium)
  • distillation (a system that boils water, catches the steam, and condenses it to liquid while leaving the uranium out)
  • anion-exchange (a system that uses the electrical charges of different particles to clean water)

Where can I learn more?

If you have any questions about uranium in drinking water, contact Alberta Health Services Environmental Public Health.

Current as of: April 26, 2022

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services