Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (May 13, 1998) -- The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will test for naturally occurring radium in wells in the Magothy and Patapsco aquifers in portions of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Cecil, Harford, Kent, Queen Anne's and Prince George's counties. MDE is initiating the study because some private wells in Anne Arundel County recently have been found to contain elevated levels of naturally occurring radium.

Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive metal that is found in trace amounts in rocks, soils and groundwater. As radium decays, small amounts of radiation are released into the environment. Because radium and other radioactive elements are present throughout the environment, people are routinely exposed to radiation in small amounts.

Naturally occurring radium in water does not pose an immediate health problem and can be readily removed by water treatment. Water softening or ion exchange treatments are effective in reducing elevated levels of radium from drinking water.

However, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there may be some long-term health risk from drinking water containing radium above EPA standards. According to EPA, if 10,000 people were to consume two liters of this water every day for 50 years, there might be one additional fatal cancer among the 10,000 exposed individuals. Consuming water at this level is comparable to receiving one routine chest x-ray per year, with the exposure increasing as the concentrations increase.

Results of a joint study by the Maryland Geological Survey of the Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, and the Anne Arundel County Health Department indicated elevated radium levels in some of the private wells in the northern portions of Anne Arundel County. Samples from wells in the southern portion of the county had either low or no radium.

MDE's study with cooperation of the other counties will provide the information needed for determining appropriate action by the government agencies.

"The results of the study will provide necessary information that will help to determine appropriate courses of action and better advise Marylanders of their options," said Maryland Secretary of the Environment Jane T. Nishida.

Sampling will begin in late May and preliminary results should be available by October. Residents whose wells will be included in the study will be contacted in advance by MDE. For those residents who do not want to wait for the study results before testing their water, information on the appropriate procedures can be provided by local health departments or MDE. The department estimates that its study will involve sampling 100 to 150 wells.

Additional information is available from local county health departments. To obtain a radium fact sheet, contact Saeid Kasraei of MDE at (410) 631-3702.