health

Is My Water Radioactive?

No, we’re not asking if your water is turning you into a monster...radioactivity in water is a real threat.

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Radioactivity is not scary in the way that movies and popular culture depict. Sadly, it is much stealthier–it can cause irreparable damage to your body that stays hidden for years, or even across generations.

We are exposed to natural radiation in our daily lives (an example being bananas!). Radioactive particles, or radionuclides, are a part of the natural world–they exist in plants and animals usually as potassium-40 or radium-226. However, increased exposures to radiation occurs in our water or air when nuclear power plants, mining operations, or laboratories release radioactive materials into the environment.

Tap Score has written this guide to help you understand what radiation really is, what the associated risks are, and what types of radioactive elements are common in drinking water, and how they should be treated.

Getting the Terms Right: What Are Radioactive Particles?

Radiation refers to any process that emits energy in the form of electromagnetic waves or particles, such as light or sound. When we talk about radioactive particles, we are specifically referring to ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is radiation that causes an atom or molecule to lose electrons and become charged–this charged molecule is called an ion.

Radioactivity is “the act of emitting radiation spontaneously”. An atom can be radioactive when it is unstable and wants to dissipate some of its energy to reach a more stable form.

The different “forms” of stable or unstable radioactive elements are called isotopes. We distinguish these radioactive isotopes by their mass, which is attached to the end of the element name, like Uranium-238.

Radioactive Particles in Water are Alpha or Beta

Radioactive particles are present in rocks and soil, which usually serve as the path to enter groundwater. The two types of radioactive particles present in water are alpha and beta particles–which are present in different sizes and element types.

Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons. Common examples in water are radium-226, radon-222, uranium-238, polonium-210, lead-206. While alpha particles cannot penetrate skin from the outside, they are active in the body and can cause damage if consumed.

Beta particles are radioactive particles made up of one electron. Common examples in water are strontium-90, potassium-40. Beta particles can penetrate the top layer of skin and cause burns. Beta particles likely cause more damage inside the body than alpha particles–they have more energy and can therefore travel farther into body tissue than alpha particles can.

Radioactive Particles in Water

We are concerned about naturally occurring radiation and additional radioactive particles that enter water from rock formations near mining sites, nuclear power plants, or laboratories. Radon, in particular, occurs in gaseous form in soils and can dissolve into groundwater or enter homes as a gas through the basement. Exposures to radon in both air and water are seriously concerning–here, we focus on exposure through drinking water.

Prevalence of Radioactive Particles: Private Wells at Higher Risk

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for radionuclides in city treated drinking water, but if you are a well water user you are at a much higher risk for radioactive contamination. In a study conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) on radioactive particles in well water, the most abundant element above the EPA health threshold was radon, appearing in 65% of wells. Uranium was present in only 4% of the wells– which makes sense because radon is produced as uranium decays.

Signs that You Have Radioactive Particles in Your Water

Unfortunately, there are no obvious signs of radioactive particles. The only way to identify radon and uranium in your water is through testing. As a company that tests water, we’ve made this pretty easy–our essential test and advanced well water tests include uranium testing, we offer a specific test for radon, and we’ve developed a full radiation test that measures Gross Alpha and Gross Beta particles.

How do radioactive elements in water affect my health?

Unfortunately, the effects from radioactive particles in water can cause cancer and even be fatal. While our skin can protect us against alpha particles in the environment, exposure to radiation through water is particularly dangerous because radioactive elements damage tissues and organs.

Radioactive particles cause damage by breaking chemical bonds essential to our body’s functioning. Changing bonds in a molecule drastically alters its ability to function. Radioactive particles can cause cells in our body to die or slow down their reproduction. If a group of cells crucial to bodily function dies, the effects can be fatal.

After the bonds of normal cells in the body are broken, they release electrons. This can create a chain reaction that can eventually impact DNA molecules. Mutations are consequent to DNA damage, which lead to cancer. And, if germ (sex) cells are mutated, the cancer can be transmitted to children long after the initial exposure. The results of a study done in Iowa show that towns with radium-226 present in their water supply had higher rates of lung, bladder, and breast cancer.

How to protect yourself from Radioactive Particles in Water

Treatment

There are two primary treatment options for radioactive particles in water–carbon filters and ion exchange:

  • Carbon filters are one option for removing radium and strontium from drinking water. However, if radon is also present the filter must be changed very frequently–carbon can adsorb radon and lead to higher radiation exposure if radon is left to build up. As radon particles accumulate, they may fall out of the filter and back into the water stream.
  • Ion exchange can be used to treat uranium. However, ion exchange creates backwash that contains high concentrations of radionuclides, which makes disposal a concern.

Ultimately, the type of treatment you choose depends on what type of radiation problem you have.

Test Before You Treat

Though these health effects may be frightening, they can be prevented or at least mitigated.  Tap Score offers a Full Radiation Water Test to measures alpha and beta particles as well as a specific Radon Test to help you determine if you are at risk. We’ll also help you choose the right treatment options if you discover a problem. Picking the right filter matters to ensure you properly treat your water.

Have more questions? Feel free to email us at hello@simplewater.us! 

Sources: 

https://ehss.energy.gov/ohre/roadmap/achre/intro_9.html

https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/116/6/924/189051

https://www.wqpmag.com/radiation-water

https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/radionuclides-rule

https://www.circleofblue.org/2011/world/water-testing-reveals-trace-elements-exceed-health-standards-in-20-percent-of-wells/

The Truth About Hydration

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Summer is just around the corner, and as you start to plan all your fun activities and adventures, remember to include the most important ingredient for success: water!

And no, we don’t mean the ocean or that beautiful waterfall on your favorite hike. We mean drinking water! People tend to become dehydrated more often during the summer months, as they are outside in the warm weather and tend to perspire more while forgetting to drink water.

Why is it important to stay hydrated?

Water is critical to human survival, and when our bodies are deprived of it even a little bit, we see immediate effects. Losing as little as 1-2% of your body water can impair cognitive performance.

If your body is dehydrated, your heart and muscles have to work harder, which may be problematic for the elderly or for people with heart conditions. As you get older, your body doesn’t sense thirst as readily either, which is why the elderly should be especially attentive to their water intake.

How do I know if I’m dehydrated?

If you’re thirsty, you’re actually already dehydrated. Thirst, however, is more of an immediate response to dehydration. Some effects of long term dehydration include:

  • Headaches
  • Lack of energy
  • Weight gain
  • Lack of cleansing/detoxification within the body
  • Weakened immune system (getting colds & flus easily)
  • Feeling lethargic or experiencing brain fog

One of the best ways to check if you’re dehydrated throughout the day is to observe the color of your urine. If it is clear or light colored, you’ve been drinking enough water. If your urine is dark colored, you better be walking straight from the bathroom to the kitchen for a glass of water!

What is the best way to stay hydrated?

First and foremost, drink water regularly. A few more tips include:

  • Eating lots of fruits & vegetables: Not only do fruits and vegetables contain water, but they can also repair electrolyte imbalance, which helps your body stay hydrated. A perfect summer fruit choice is watermelon.
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks: Though coffee and tea provide water, caffeine is considered a diuretic and simultaneously causes increased urination, which can lead to dehydration.
  • Exercising: Though this may seem counterintuitive, exercise increases circulation throughout the body, which improves electrolyte levels. When exercising make sure to drink extra water to supplement the amount you’re losing through perspiration.

How much water should I drink per day? 

3 Liters (or 13 cups) 

minimum drinking water, for men

2.2. Liters (or 9 cups)

minimum drinking water, for women

  • The Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggests 3.7 liters and 2.7 liters are the minimum intake for food and beverages combined for men and women, respectively. The actual amount of water you should drink per day depends on your activities and the weather. Another approach that's recommended is that you drink 25-50% of your body weight in ounces of water daily. If you’re active, pregnant or breastfeeding, or if it is very warm outside, you’ll want to drink more than usual.
  •  As you’re consuming extra water this summer to stay hydrated, it is important to ensure that your tap water is great quality. We at SimpleWater have developed various water testing kits to make sure you understand your water quality and its impact on your health. Feel free to email us at hello@simplewater.us with any questions.

Sources:

https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/top-10-ways-to-stay-hydrated
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/Staying-Hydrated---Staying-Healthy_UCM_441180_Article.jsp#.WwdZzC-ZNmA
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-importance-of-staying-hydrated
https://draxe.com/how-to-stay-hydrated/ 

Growing Concern: How Water Quality Impacts Your Fruits and Vegetables

A Guide to Choosing the Right Water for Your Vegetable Garden

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Whether it’s talking to your plants or adding nutrient-rich fertilizer, there are a multitude of ways people help their plants grow. A great way to ensure healthy plants is to use the right water to nourish them. Water quality can impact your plants in a variety of ways, and this is even more important when it comes to growing fruits and vegetables. The things you grow in your vegetable garden presumably make it into your body. This not only means that clean water impacts your plants’ health, but it can have an effect on your health, as well.

We’re here to explain:

  1. How water quality impacts your vegetable garden
  2. What type of water you should you use to water your produce
  3. Other factors influence the quality of your fruits and vegetables

How Water Quality Impacts Your Vegetable Garden

Just as food nourishes our bodies, water serves as the lifeblood for plants. Plants absorb water through their roots that subsequently moves through their vascular system. As water disperses across a plant’s leaves, stems, buds, flowers, and fruit, it carries with it a variety of crucial nutrients–functioning similarly to the human circulatory system. However, just like water carries the vital elements throughout a plant, it also may carry contaminants. These contaminants range from biological (microbes) to chemical (heavy metals). While contamination is less of a concern for ornamental plants, fruits and vegetables given poor quality water can directly impact your health. Increasing evidence not only suggests that contaminated water causes nutritional imbalance within the plant, it also indicates a link to increased foodborne illnesses from microbes, parasites, and viruses, in humans. The concern is greatest in leafy vegetables that tend to be eaten without cooking.

This begs the question: What’s the best type of water to use when watering your plants?

What Type of Water Should You Use to Water Your Plants

From tap water to bottled water, there can be a lot of confusion surrounding the best water for growing fruits and vegetables. We’re here to here to clarify what water leads to the healthiest plants–and in turn, the healthiest you.

The first thing we want to note, however, is that the parameters of what is ‘safe’ for plants are different than what is ‘safe’ for  human consumption. The next thing to remember is that, no matter what source you use to supply your garden with water–temperature matters. Our tip: avoid extremes. Exceedingly cold water can lead to root shock, while excessively hot temperatures can burn the plant.

Watering Plants with Municipal Water:

The most common concern people often have about using city water when irrigating their vegetable gardens is the added chlorine. If you receive your water from a public water supplier, it is highly likely–98% likely, to be specific–that your tap water contains some amount of the disinfectant (up to 4 parts per million). Chlorine serves as an effective means of removing pathogens from drinking water, but many gardeners fear that it will also eliminate many of the beneficial microbes in the soil. However, there are two key factors that do not make chlorine a major threat to microorganism populations:

  1. Microorganism reproduce at such a rapid rate that–even if chlorine kills some of the microbes–their populations can easily rebound in a short amount of time if you have healthy soil quality.
  2. When chlorine enters the ground, it binds to the surface soil particles and does not travel to the beneficial microorganism colonies that live in the lower soil layers.

While the average chlorine concentration in tap water (up to 4 parts per million) has not been shown do lasting damage to plants, chlorine toxicity is still possible. A tell-tale sign that your fruits and veggies may be suffering too much chlorine is if their leaves appear burnt.

How can you remove chlorine from your tap water? An easy (and inexpensive fix) is to let the water sit for a day or two in an open container. This allows the chlorine to vent in gas form. Note: if your water contains chloramines, this method will not work. In order to eliminate these chlorine/ammonia compounds is to use an active removal system (such as a catalytic carbon filter).  

If you are concerned about other contaminants in your water–like heavy metals–, we recommend investing in a water filter–especially if you use your tap water for drinking! Check out our guide to water filters to help you make the right choice–we know it’s confusing! One rule to follow: water that has passed through a water softener should not be used for horticulture. it is likely to be high in potassium or sodium. Elevated levels in either can buildup up in soil over time and high salt levels can cause your plant to die of thirst.

Watering Plants with Well Water:

Although ground water (i.e. your well source) is less likely to contain microbial contaminants than surface water, your well water may still wind up with a host of different contaminants. Well water begins as rain and snowmelt. It makes its way into your well by filtering through the ground. As it soaks through the soil, it can pick up a variety of contaminants depending on what chemicals or pathogens are present.

Evidence on how heavy metals impact vegetables suggest that some plants take up metals more readily than others, but scientists have found elevated of arsenic in California wines due to grape vines taking-up naturally occurring arsenic from soil and groundwater.

Our suggestion: if you have a well you should test it and consider testing your soil quality, too. Whether or not you are growing zucchinis, it’s always best to know what you are putting in your food (and body.)

Watering Plants with Bottled Water:

There are  a lot of myths surrounding the health benefits of bottled water. Despite what you may think, bottled water is not always cleaner or safer than tap water. Shockingly, about ~25% of bottled water appears to come just from tap water with or without added treatment. Additionally, bottled water is tested less frequently than tap water.

Our suggestion: considering both the financial and environmental costs of bottled water–tap water tends to be a better choice for your plants.

Other Factors Impacting Your Fruits and Veggies

Prior to selecting a certain type of water to irrigate your fruits or vegetables, it is best to gather as much information as possible. That means testing your water (whether it is city or well).

While water quality can have impacts on the overall plant health, an even more important factor is soil composition and quality. The balance of pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, carbon, and oxygen can significantly dictate the health of your plants. For more information regarding soil quality and ways to test it, you can reach us at hello@simplewater.us

Sources: 

http://lawr.ucdavis.edu/cooperative-extension/irrigation/drought-tips/water-quality-guidelines-vegetable-and-row-crops

https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/vegetable/guides/organic-vegetable-production-guide/key-factors-in-vegetable-production/

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/garden-how-to/watering/testing-water-for-plants.htm

https://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Keep-food-safety-in-mind-when-planning-vegetable-52093.php

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515668/

https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/SP740-B.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/foodborne-germs.html

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/chlorine-toxicity-trees-and-shrubs

http://www.ncagr.gov/CYBER/kidswrld/plant/nutrient.htm

https://waterandhealth.org/safe-drinking-water/drinking-water/chlorine-in-tap-water-is-safe-to-drink/

http://albopepper.com/watering-with-tap-water.php

https://chlorine.americanchemistry.com/Chlorine/DrinkingWaterFAQ/

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.495.8268&rep=rep1&type=pdf

http://www.onlineeducation.net/bottled_water

https://www.nrdc.org/stories/truth-about-tap

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/1-soils-and-plant-nutrients

Reading a Consumer Confidence Report with Confidence

How to Make Sense of Water Quality Reports from your Local Water Utility

It’s undeniable that knowing what’s in your water is, at the very least, prudent. At SimpleWater, we think it’s crucial. What you put in your body impacts both your short-term and long-term health. Our goal is to enable people to both discover and understand what is in their drinking water. Our Tap Score home water testing kits are one means of spreading that goal, but there are lot of other resources out there that that can shed some light about what flows from your tap. If you are wondering why your tap water, smellslooks, or even tastes funny–a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) is one way to start finding answers.

What is a Consumer Confidence Report?

Simply put, a CCR is a water quality report. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) the purpose of these reports are to improve public health protection and provide information to enable water consumers to make educated decisions regarding potential health risk pertaining to the following:

  • Drinking water quality
  • Drinking water treatment
  • Drinking water supply management
     

You will only receive a CCR if you are on a community water system. People who receive their water from a private well do not receive CCRs, as private wells are not regulated by the EPA. However, if you are on a private groundwater well and would like more information–we recommend taking a look at the Center For Disease Control’s Private Ground Water Wells page.  

How Can I Receive My Consumer Confidence Report?

The way you are able to access your CCR depends on your living situation.

  • If you live in a home: You will most likely automatically receive a copy of your CCR from your local water utility via mail each year.
  • If you live in a condominium or apartment: You may not receive a direct copy of their CCR. However, you can still access your water quality reports by calling your local water provider or looking up  your community water system’s website. If your community water system does not have a website, search your area on the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) and try calling them or your local water district

What Does a Consumer Confidence Report Tell You?

At first glance, CCRs can appear quite technical. However, once you know what to look for,  you will find a wealth of valuable information. All Consumer Confidence Reports are required to contain certain elements, such as information regarding:

All data on your CCR will be tailored to your local water utility.

Here’s a great sample CCR report (courtesy of the National Science Foundation):

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What Does All of This Mean?!

To read the CCR above, you can interpret each column as telling you:

Column 1:  What contaminant they evaluated (e.g. Barium)

Column 2: The contaminant Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and Maximum Contaminant Level Goals

Column 3: The average concentration of that contaminant that was detected in your water in the water test

Column 4: The range of concentrations of the contaminant that was detected in your water (they take multiple samples)

Column 5: Whether or not the concentration in your water violates the MCL

Column 6: Explanation of where the contaminant comes from naturally

Column 7: A short overview of health effects related to the contaminant.

What To Do If You Are Concerned About Your Consumer Confidence Report?

Unfortunately, Consumer Confidence Reports do not always report 100% clean water results.. Frequently, chemicals and contaminants may be present in your water, and it might have you feeling confused or concerned. Rightfully so!

If you are concerned about the content of your CCR, the good news is there are things you can do. Along with calling your local water utility directly, some resources include:

Our Tap Score home-testing kit is another great resource if your questions were not addressed on your CCR. We test for over 400 contaminants, will provide you with cutting edge water health analysis, unbiased treatment recommendations. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at hello@simplewater.us and we’d be happy to help!

Sources: 

https://www.epa.gov/ccr

https://www.epa.gov/ccr/how-water-systems-comply-ccr-requirements

https://www.epa.gov/ccr/consumer-confidence-report-rule-quick-reference-guide

https://www.epa.gov/ccr/consumer-confidence-report-rule-and-rule-history-water-systems

http://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/water-quality/water-filters-testing-treatment/consumer-confidence-reports

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/public/understanding_ccr.html

http://www.nsf.org/consumer-resources/water-quality/water-filters-testing-treatment/consumer-confidence-reports

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1310926/



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