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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. In its pure metal form, uranium is silver with a grey surface. It’s the heaviest naturally-occurring metal and it’s almost as strong as steel.

Where is uranium found?

In Alberta, there is uranium in certain types of soil and rocks ​(e.g., granite bedrock, sandstone, shale bedrock). There are also low concentrations in food, water, and air.

Other sources of uranium include milling tailings, emissions from the nuclear industry, phosphate fertilizer production, and burning coal or other fuels.

How does uranium get in my well water?

Naturally-occurring uranium in well water comes from dissolving or eroding soils and rocks that contain uranium. It’s more likely to have higher levels in drilled wells when the water flows from cracks or fractures in bedrock than in shallow dug or bored wells and surface water supplies.

How can uranium affect my health?

People might be exposed to uranium when they breathe, drink water, or eat food from areas that have high background levels of uranium. After uranium is ingested or inhaled, it gets into the blood fast and collects in the kidneys and bones. Uranium leaves the body very slowly when people pass urine and have bowel movements.

The main health concern when people are exposed to uranium is kidney damage. Radiation from high levels of uranium is not known to cause cancer.

What is the standard for uranium in drinking water?

According to Health Canada, the maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) for uranium in drinking water is 0.02 milligrams per litre (mg/L). This standard is based on lifetime exposure (70 years of age) to uranium from drinking water.

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

You can’t see, smell, or taste uranium. You have to have your water tested to find out how much uranium is in it.

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

All municipal public water supplies are tested regularly for uranium. If needed, it’s treated to keep levels below the Health Canada standard of 0.02 mg/L. You can usually get the results of uranium testing by contacting your municipality.

What if the level of uranium in my drinking water is higher than the standard?

If testing shows a uranium level in your drinking water that’s higher than 0.02 mg/L, you need to:

  • stop using the water and use a safe water source (e.g., municipal system, bottled water) to drink, cook, and brush teeth
  • retest the drinking water supply to confirm the results

Think about installing a water treatment system that can remove uranium.

What treatment systems will remove uranium from drinking water?

Uranium can be removed from drinking water by:

  • reverse osmosis: forces water through a membrane that filters out minerals including uranium
  • distillation: boils water, catches the steam, and condenses it to liquid while leaving the uranium out
  • anion-exchange: uranium is removed and exchanged with another ion as the water runs through a resin bed

If you have any questions about uranium in drinking water, call Environmental Public Health.

Current as of: March 13, 2018

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services