Jump to main content.

Radionuclides in Water

RadTown USA Topics
  Natural Radiation:
Printer Friendly Version
Radionuclides in Water (PDF)
(2pp, 139Kb)
[about pdf format]

This page describes the various ways radioactive particles end up in water.

On this page:


Radioactive materials can enter water in several ways:

Some radioactive particles dissolve and move along with the water. Others are deposited in sediments or on soil or rocks.

Most drinking water sources have very low levels of radioactive contaminants. Because these levels are very low, they are not considered to be a public health concern. Radon, from radium sources in the ground, is a special case of dissolved gas that can be at higher levels.

Health becomes a concern when radionuclides become concentrated in these bodies of water due to natural occurrences, accidental releases of radioactivity, or improper disposal practices.

Top of page

Drinking Water

Drinking water can come from either ground water sources (e.g., wells) or surface water sources (rivers, lakes, streams, etc.). Water can pick up radioactive material as it flows through the rocks, soil or cracked cement surrounding a water source, therefore contaminating that water source.

Large metropolitan areas rely on surface water, while many rural areas use ground water. To find the source of your drinking water, check your annual water quality report or call your water supplier.

Most drinking water sources have very low levels of natural radioactive contaminants and are not considered to be a public health concern.

Water systems that are vulnerable to man-made radioactive contamination are required to undergo extensive monitoring to ensure that the drinking water is safe.

Top of page

Who is protecting you

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) directed EPA to set standards for drinking water contaminants, including radionuclides, that may adversely affect human health. EPA’s drinking water standards include a maximum contaminant limit, which drinking water plants must monitor for and report their finding in their annual reports, and a low contaminant goal for which drinking water plants should strive. Public water supplies must comply with EPA's national primary drinking water regulations, which are based on the Agency's drinking water standards. If a drinking water plant is over the maximum contamination limit they must take action to lower the contamination level.

Private well users should test their water for radionuclide contamination.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (as amended by the Clean Water Act) prohibits the discharge of radioactive wastes or other pollutants into U.S. navigable waters without a permit and protects ground water from pollutants from underground wells and mines. EPA and authorized states have the authority to issue permits in accordance with water quality standards.

EPA also monitors drinking water and precipitation across the nation using their monitoring system, RadNet (formerly called ERAMS, Environmental Radiation Ambient Monitoring System).

The States

Each state regulates the discharge of wastes into waterways and ensures that this waste does not include radioactive materials. Under authorization of EPA, the majority of states develop and implement their own drinking water standards that are as strict, if not stricter, than EPA’s Safe Drinking Water standards.

Top of page

What you can do to protect yourself

Protecting our drinking water is a community-wide effort, beginning with the protection of water sources, and including education, funding, and conservation. Specifically, you can do the following:

Top of page


Students Page 9-12
March 26, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This page contains various games and activities related to drinking water.
Water Emergency Preparedness
March 26, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This page offers information about protecting water during emergencies.
Private Wells
March 26, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
If you have a well, you can find useful information on this page about keeping your water safe to drink.
Consumer Information
March 28, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ground Water & Drinking Water
This page provides information on how to help protect your drinking water supply.
It’s Your Drinking Water: Get to Know it and Protect It (PDF) (8pp, 176Kb [about pdf format])
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water 1999
The document discusses the right-to-know provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also provides tips on learning about and protecting your drinking water.
Radionuclides in Drinking Water
March 26, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
On this page, you can read about Safe Drinking Water Act radionuclide regulations.
Source Water Protection Publications Database
March 26, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
From this page, you can search for many kinds of information about the protection of drinking water sources.
Basic Information About the Radionuclides Rule
March 26, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Radionuclides in Drinking Water
Here you can find basic information on the final drinking water standards for (non-radon) radionuclides in drinking water.
Technologically-Enhanced, Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials
March 26, 2012. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Radiation Protection
This page gives basic information on how radionuclides are handled under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Top of page


Local Navigation

Jump to main content.