Arundel urging radium tests for private wells

March 14, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County Health Department is encouraging about 20,000 northern and central county residents to have their private wells tested for radium, while stressing that the risk of contracting cancer by drinking contaminated water is small.

The recommendations, outlined in letters to be mailed Thursday, were made after tests of about 1,000 homes found that two out of three wells had high levels of radium. The naturally occurring radioactive metal is thought to cause bone cancer in high doses over time.

The letters are part of a larger campaign launched to ensure that residents get information about the issue and are aware that purification systems can rid water of radium. The department also has sent information to 2,200 real estate agents so prospective homebuyers are better informed.

At the same time, state and county health officials are trying to quell any panic.

"It is not a health emergency," county health officer Frances B. Phillips told Anne Arundel's legislative delegation at a briefing yesterday.

Radium levels are considered high if they exceed levels determined safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. Even so, "the theoretical risk of drinking 2 liters a day for 50 years would be one additional cancer death in 10,000," said Robert Weber, the department's director of community and environmental health.

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