How to Choose a Water Filter: Part 8 High Level Contaminants

by wfnblog on April 18, 2011


Confused CharacterIn part 7 of our nearly complete How to Choose a Water Filter series, we promised to delve into the subject of radioactive contaminants. With recent developments at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactor, there is a growing concern about radioactive substances showing up in American water supplies. Justifying these concerns are recent EPA reports confirming elevated levels of radioactive substances in the U.S.A. Though these levels are still considered safe, the EPA is ramping up it’s monitoring of drinking water, air, and milk. Follow the EPA efforts here.

In an effort to assuage unnecessary fear and inform legitimate concern, WaterFilters.NET offers the following information concerning the most common radioactive substances in drinking water.

Iodine-131: This radioactive isotope of Iodine, also known as Radioiodine, is the most prolific byproduct of nuclear fission. Fortunately Iodine-131 has a half-life of merely 8 days. To quantify this, if you start with 100 grams of Iodine-131, in 8 days you will have 50 grams of Iodine-131 and 50 grams of stable (nonradioactive) Xenon-131. After 80 days, you will have just under one-tenth of a gram of Iodine-131 and almost 99.9 grams of Xenon-131. Obviously this is no consolation if you are unfortunate enough to be exposed to it, but positively speaking it disappears from the environment relatively quickly. The really good news: Iodine-131 and all other Iodine isotopes can easily be removed from water with a typical activated carbon water filter, or through reverse osmosis.

Strontium-90: Obviously a radioactive isotope of Strontium, Strontium-90 is found in significant amounts in spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste from nuclear reactors. Unfortunately it has a significantly longer half life than Iodine-131 (28.8 years), and requires more robust treatment to effectively remove from water. Depending on the specific water chemistry, a strong base anion resin (A532E) may be sufficient to remove from water, but in more complex situations a nuclear grade anion resin may be necessary.

Cesium-137/134: You guessed it; Cesium-137 and Cesium-134 are radioactive isotopes of Cesium released into the environment during nuclear weapons testing and nuclear disasters. Used in various medical and industrial applications, Cesium-137 is readily removed from water by Cation water softening or reverse osmosis.

The good news is that radioactivity from Japan is unlikely to reach unsafe levels here in the USA. Presently there is much more radiation emanating from appliances in our homes, i.e. microwaves, tv’s, and cell phones, but it’s good to know there are means available to deal with these dangerous radioactive substances, should they turn up in our water.

In the final two installments of How to Choose a Water Filter, we will take a closer look at water purification to the nth degree.  Nth degree is our way of playfully referring to water that is ULTRA ULTRA purified. It can be complicated, expensive, and even over the top, but more people than ever before are finding value in taking their water filtration to this level. We will discuss some of the methods and reasoning behind them.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Janed June 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm

You wrote “The good news is that radioactivity from Japan is unlikely to reach unsafe levels here in the USA. Presently there is much more radiation emanating from appliances in our homes, i.e. microwaves, tv’s, and cell phones, but it’s good to know there are means available to deal with these dangerous radioactive substances, should they turn up in our water.”

It appears that you are perpetuating a common misunderstanding of radiation by suggesting that external radiation (e.g. background radiation & cosmic rays, etc.) is the same as internal radiation (e.g. ingested radioactive particles).  Also, while I understand that you may be trying to simplify the explanation of “radiation” for blog readers, please note that “radiation” from a TV (Xrays) or cell phone (microwaves) is very different than nuclear radiation (gamma rays) in a couple of important ways.  #1) The energy levels coming from nuclear radiation have much greater potential to cause biological harm due to their higher energy levels, and #2) I can easily avoid the radiation from my TV or cell phone by keeping my distance from them, and in the case of cosmic rays, I can choose to drive to my destination rather than fly, thus reducing my exposure.   However, if I ingest cesium or strontium, I will carry that radiation inside me for many months or perhaps years.  All the while, it is emitting ionizing gamma radiation and potentially doing damage to nearby cells in my bones,  muscles, or internal organs.  Not all cell damage wil lead to cancer, but the more particles I ingest, the greater will be the potential that some cell damage WILL result in cancer.  The Bier VII report (http://dels-old.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/beir_vii_final.pdf) on radiation (as well as many other legitimate, scientific reports) concluded that there is NO safe level of radiation.  This is called the “no linear threshold model”.

By setting “safe levels” the government statistically establishes that a certain percentage of people in the population WILL contract a radiation induced cancer.  Thus, the government decides how many potential deaths they think are acceptable.  Of course, they never explain this important fact to the population, so people don’t understand the true degree of risk associated with any of the so called “safe levels” of contamination.  Using this logic, any higher level of contamination could be considered “safe” if the government accepts that an increased number of the population will die as a result. 

People need to understand that there is no such thing as a “safe” level of radiation.  All exposure to radiation carries a STATISTICAL and incremental risk that it will increase their lifetime risk of dying from a radiation induced cancer.   I encourage everyone to become more informed about the true health impacts of exposure (internal and external) to radionuclides.    I also encourage people to develop a better understanding of the risks associated with the so called “safe levels” of radioactive contaminants.  Only then will people be able to make informed decisions.  Personally, I want to keep my statistical risk of contracting a radiation induced cancer as low as possible.  Therefore, I am investing in a water filtration system.  

Please consider re-wording your blog post so it does not perpetuate the misrepresantations of risk that have become common in the media and on the web in recent months.

Thank you.

Reply

Tony June 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Janed,

Although I greatly appreciate your response and in large part agree with it, I don’t believe I am “perpetuating a common misunderstanding of radiation by suggesting that
external radiation (e.g. background radiation & cosmic rays, etc.)
is the same as internal radiation (e.g. ingested radioactive particles).” I can appreciate how one might extrapolate and reach your conclusion, but if my post is taken at face value, I simply said there is more radiation in the average home from various appliances than there is from the Japan nuclear disaster. At the present time this continues to be true. I made no statements about the types or potency of radiation.

Though your point about the potency of ingested radioactive particles is valid, it is a statistical reality that most Americans will suffer much more from background radiation than they ever will from ingested radionuclides.

Reply

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