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Radium as a Water Contaminant

Radium is formed when uranium and thorium undergo radioactive decay in the environment. Uranium and thorium are found in small amounts in most rocks and soil. Radium is constantly being produced by the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium. Two of the main radium isotopes found in the environment are radium-226 and radium-228 with an atomic weight of 226 and 228.

Radium (Ra)
Sources of Radium in Water:
Radioactive decay of uranium and thorium in rocks and soil
Potential Health Effects:
Increased Cancer Risk
Common Treatment Methods:

  • Cation Exchange Softening
  • Reverse Osmosis
  • Distillation
    –Electrochemical deionization
  • Lime Softening

Radium has been used as a radiation source for treating cancer, in radiography of metals, and combined with other metals as a neutron source for research and radiation instrument calibration. Surface water sources and shallow wells will typically have lower levels of radium while deeper wells may at times have higher concentrations, depending on several natural factors.

Radium emits energy in the form of alpha particles and gamma rays, and will also decay to form radon. Radium in drinking water is of primary concern because this radiation may cause cancer, kidney damage, and birth defects. Additionally, the decay of radium into radon presents another contaminant of health concern in drinking water as well as in the air. The National Academy of Sciences reported that exposure to radon in the air is the second cause of lung cancer next to cigarette smoking.

Treating Radium in Water

When proper regeneration procedures are employed in ion exchange treatment methodologies (e.g.,conventional water softeners), radium along with barium, calcium, and magnesium are effectively reduced. Radium removal has been shown to continue well after the hardness breakthrough point on both new and old cation resin beds, while barium breakthrough occurs shortly after hardness.

Reverse osmosis and distillation are also effective at reducing radium.
There are established standards for reducing radium by cation exchange softeners, reverse osmosis systems, and distillers.

These standards actually utilize barium (Ba2+) as a conservative surrogate to demonstrate radium reduction. There are many softeners, RO devices, and distillers tested and certified for the reduction of radium by independent testing and certifying organizations.

Discharge regulations for wastewater containing radium may vary from area to area.

The treatment methods listed herein are generally recognized as techniques that can effectively reduce the radium in water to sufficiently meet or exceed the relevant MCL.

However, this list does not reflect the fact that point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) devices and systems currently on the market may differ widely in their effectiveness in treating specific contaminants, and performance may vary from application to application.

Therefore, selection of a particular device or system for health
contaminant reduction should be made only after careful investigation of its performance capabilities based on results from competent equipment validation testing for the specific contaminant to be reduced.

As part of the installation procedure of Point-Of-Entry products, the performance characteristics should be verified by tests conducted under established test procedures and water analysis. Thereafter, the treated water should be monitored periodically to verify continued performance.

The water treatment equipment must be controlled diligently to ensure that acceptable feedwater conditions and equipment capacity are not exceeded.

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