Because of both 20th century history and Hollywood, radiation is something most Americans have learned to fear. While manufactured items, like atomic bombs, can cause radiation poisoning, radiation also occurs naturally.
Radium is a radioactive element that may be present in air, soil, rocks or groundwater. Consequently, if your tap water comes from below the ground, you may have some risk of developing radium toxicity.
Radium and its associated isotopes break down over time. During the decomposition process, radium releases alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Normal decay causes radium to no longer be radioactive, but the time to safety may be quite lengthy.
For example, with radium-224, a common isotope, degradation to non-radioactive levels takes as long as 1,600 years.
Radium toxicity is a potentially life-threatening medical condition. If you are experiencing radium toxicity, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite
- Dizziness or disorientation
- Muscular weakness
- Fatigue or insomnia
- Hair loss
- Fever or headache
Regrettably, radium toxicity may increase your chances of developing many different forms of cancer. You may also be at risk for anemia and cataracts. While an early diagnosis may improve your prognosis, many effects of radium toxicity may not become apparent for years after exposure.
Testing your tap water not only rules out radium contamination, but it may also alert you to other potentially catastrophic contaminants.
Groundwater contamination is not something anyone should take lightly, especially if radium is the contaminant. Ultimately, if you are unwell, investigating whether you have a radioactive element in your tap water may be worthwhile.