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WOWW – Lake Zurich Ion-Exchange Radium Removal

When one reads “radioactive material” and “groundwater” in the same sentence, it is easy to get a little nervous. Yet many people don’t realize that trace levels of radioactive materials, or “radionuclides,” are found naturally in some of the deep bedrock aquifers many of us in the Chicago area rely on for drinking water. These elements, most commonly the isotopes of Radium-226 and Radium-228, “occur naturally in rock formations deep below the surface of the earth and enter the deep aquifer water supply by bonding with the mineral deposits in the water,” explains David Heyden, who has become quite familiar with radium contamination issues over the past five years in his role as the Village of Lake Zurich’s public works director.
As “natural” as radium is, it certainly is not good for us. Exposure to elevated levels of radium in drinking water is linked to greater risk of bone cancer. Bones absorb the radiation, and it accumulates in the body. For that reason, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that potable water contain less than 5 picocuries per liter of radium (a picocurie measures how many bursts of radiation a radium atom gives off per second.) For reference, the deep wells supplying water to the Village of Lake Zurich contained natural radium levels in the range of 5 to 15 picocuries per liter.
That’s where modern engineering and savvy water practitioners like Heyden come into the picture. Communities entrust these professionals with developing creative solutions to the most pressing water supply concerns, including removing excess radium from our drinking water.
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