Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Uranium Contaminates Water Across California's Central Valley (2015) (kqed.org)
59 points by HillaryBriss 56 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments

From 2015, scare mongering with little content other than vague statements like

"Before treatment, Westport's water tested up to four times state and federal limits. After treatment, it's safe for the children, teachers and staff to drink."

This does not point to a specific limit such as Maxiumum Contanminant Level (MCL) or Maximum Contaminant Limit Goal (MCLG). MCLG is a non-legally binding limit, which is as it states is a goal. MCLG for urainum contaminants is 0 ug/L. Any measurement of any drinking water will always have more uranium than this limit. The MCL is 30ug/L for uranium.

Additionally, the EPA has changed the way in which they have approached limits, previously they quoted something like the World Health Organization limits [3], which are average daily consumption limits. Average implies that some measurements could be high or low. WHO estimates natural concentration of uranium in drinking water is 0.08 ug/L (0.001 Bq/L), which is obviously above the EPAs MCLG.

WHO is a much better resource for information on these limits, and the EPA appears to just take their limits and do a divide by ten.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximum_Contaminant_Level [2] https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi?Dockey=30006644.txt [3] https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272995/9789...

Ah scare mongering. The safety limits are put in place such that the exposure causes no measurable effects, plus a buffer for safety. The precision of our instruments is very, very high.

Naturally occurring uranium has a very long half life. Which means it radiates very small amounts in comparison to other radioactive elements like certain isotopses of cesium and iodine. By many orders of magnitude.

You could drink 10x the "safe" levels of uranium your whole life and have no ill effects. Holding a kg rod of pure uranium gives you exposure between normal background and a plane flight.

The outrage you're looking for isn't here. It's not another Flint.

As others have said, we all hear "uranium + cancer" and assume the problem is radiation. Uranium is poisonous chemically too. Chemical poisons can also cause cancer.

"The health effects associated with oral or dermal exposure to natural and depleted uranium appear to be primarily chemical in nature and not radiological [...] Because natural uranium produces very little radioactivity per mass of uranium, the renal and respiratory effects from exposure of humans and animals to uranium are usually attributed to the chemical properties of uranium. "


It's a very big, very heavy metal. That it may impact kidney function should be no surprise.

> Naturally occurring uranium has a very long half life.

It's nothing to do with radiation, it's chemistry. Uranium compounds are nephrotoxic.


Lead has an infinite half-life, since it's not radioactive. How much would you be willing to accept in your water?

I feel your comment isn’t very constructive and is a little demeaning.

You assume that radioactivity is the only danger emanating from Uranium in the water. I was merely pointing out that it is not the only thing to be worried about. Elements can be poisonous without being radioactive.

Was that a little more constructive?

Quit reading their words in your internal voice. You're the one attributing emotion to a statement with no emotionally-charged words.

We even had that story here on HN and yet nobody seems to have learned from it.

This is nonsensical. Lead's danger isn't from its radioactive decay, though. It's from its chemical properties that make it harmful to the nervous system.

Uranium's danger isn't from its radioactivity when ingested either, its a toxic heavy metal much like lead.

Sure, but why are you referring to half life if you're talking about toxicity other than radiation? Half lives are irrelevant to chemical toxicity (at least, not unless something decays into something with different chemical properties).

The commenter you're replying to made no mention of half-life. The commenter who did make mention of half-life with regard to lead, was doing so to show that framing the uranium issue solely as a radiation issue was misguided, at best.

The article itself mentions the non-radioactive component of the risk:

Though people think mainly about uranium's radioactivity, the danger in water mainly comes from the toxic chemical effects of the metal.

I agree that the likelihood of an individual suffering is probably very low. But that also means that it will be very difficult to attribute an illness to this. Cancer and kidney disease are common after all. Just because you can't measure something it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Public policy has to accept this uncertainty.

Not to add to the sensationalism, but it is worth noting that U-238 is probably dangerous to ingest moreso because of its behavior as a heavy metal rather than it's radioactivity.

In which case because of the bioaccumlative properties of heavy metals, drinking 10x the limit as you say may not actually be so harmless. But I don't know what safe limits really are.

It appears to have a particular toxicity on the kidneys from my brief googling.

Excellent point! I wonder if safety levels are set based on heavy metal toxicity or radiation, since one is likely to be the dominating factor.

The heavy metal toxicity definitely dominates. Uranium is barely radioactive.

Besides the radiation, uranium is very toxic.

This has always been the case, at least in the Bakersfield area, unless a well actively filters these out. Our well water in the 90's would usually be 2-3x the EPA limits.

>> Other Central California farm schools opt to buy bottled water in place of drinking fountains, which are off limits because of uranium and other contaminants

Has anyone tested the bottled water? Most of it comes from domestic water supplies anyway. Since uranium doesn't have any impact on taste, I doubt the bottling companies are looking for it.

Also see: Recovery of uranium from seawater using amidoxime hollow fibers

"The fixed‐bed adsorption column, 30 cm in length and charged with the bundle of AO‐H fibers, was found to adsorb uranium from natural seawater at a sufficiently high rate: 0.66 mg uranium per g of adsorbent in 25 days."


That sort of tech could not just clean uranium from water, but at a commercial scale could produce very interesting amounts of uranium relatively quickly.

could uranium powered boats and submarines use this in full cycle somehow, extracting their own uranium as they travel?

Galen Winsor, who worked on the Manhattan Project and at GE, eating uranium on camera


Is he alive or dead? Cause of death? There are of course the radiothor incidents (where people actually died from eating uranium and thorium products, note this is selectively consumed for many years at concentrated levels, much higher than in rocks)[1]. Also the Baltimore Radium girls, who ingested concentrated radium to make glow in the dark watches.

[1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radithor

He died in 2008 at age 82, from Parkinson's disease.

Radium is ~500000x as radioactive as uranium.

Half-life is longer for uranium, but I would say they are just as radioactive, as they are in secular equilibrium and apart of the same decay chain [1]. They are just as "radioactive" in this configuration, as they go through the same number of decays. Their concentrations can change.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decay_chain#/media/File:Decay_...

SI measures radiation in decay events per second. The rate is important because we mostly worry about decay product exposure during our lifetimes, or maybe how long a mass must be contained until it stops being an acute risk to our species, rather than the grand total of decay over astronomical time scales.

Well water was used to produce many crops throughout the California Central Valley during the recent long drought, vegetables and fruits that are then shipped for consumption throughout the States.

That California's farmers were watering crops (almonds, for petes sake) with ever deeper wells is a scandal.

apparently somebody feels compelled to defend abuses by California farmers of a critical resource held in common, for personal profit. It is a scandal.


So apparently it's not very radioactive but does have toxicity. Should we not be concerned about the food supply? Is produce tested?

I don't think produce is tested. The article states:

... uranium also sticks to potatoes, radishes and other root vegetables if they're not properly washed. (While studies have confirmed livestock and people can ingest high levels of uranium by eating contaminated vegetation, scientists have yet to fully research the dangers involved.)


Most HN people aren't chemists of any sorts by trade or profession, and don't understand that it's not the radiation but other chemical effects of uranium compounds found in water that causes the real problem. They're all toxic to kidneys, for starters. They're also toxic to the intestinal tract and skeleton.

Every time I go out mining for uranium minerals, I wear full PPE. Trying to do chelation for uranium isn't as simple (or as cheap) as say lead, because calcium DTPA can actually allow for easier absorption into the bones. Been there, done that. Not fun.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact