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Health Official Tries To Quell Fears Over Uranium Reports



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Health Official Tries To Quell Fears Over Uranium Reports

By Steve Bigham

Health District Director Mark Cooper this week attempted to quell people’s fears over reports that some Newtown drinking wells have high levels of uranium and radium.

The Bee first reported on the issue last week and several TV news stations have since picked up on the story. One television report, which aired Tuesday night, appears to have created quite a stir around town as the health office was bombarded with calls Wednesday. Some have called wondering if there were radioactive people in Newtown or whether or not it was safe to be near someone who might have been exposed to high uranium levels.

Mr Cooper has worked quickly to quell those fears, trying to inject “a little science” into the issue.

“This has nothing to do with radioactivity. There are no radioactive people, pets or things in Newtown,” he said. “I’m trying to reassure people that there is no need to panic.”

True, Mr Cooper said, there have been a couple of isolated incidents in town where well water did test high. Those cases are being investigated and will likely be rectified with the removal of uranium using common water treatment equipment.

According to information from the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), uranium is found nearly everywhere – in water, air, food and soil. Food, particularly root vegetables like beets, carrots and potatoes, have low levels of uranium, but not to the extent where they could be harmful. In addition, uranium is not absorbed through the skin and tends to pass through the body rather quickly.

“There are limited health effects unless you’re talking about extremely high levels over a sustained period of consumption,” Mr Cooper said.

The health district’s recommendation: Use common sense.

“There is nothing going on in Newtown – in terms of this uranium – to be alarmed about. We are working with state and federal officials to determine exactly what this means for those people with high levels in their water,” explained Mr Cooper, who said the coverage by one particular TV news crew was  “sensationalized with very little facts used in its coverage.”

Ed and Tammy Marks of 3 Sweet Meadow Road were recently informed that they had extremely high levels of uranium and radium in their drinking water. They have lived at their current address for the past five years. The news came as little surprise since the couple already had suspicions that something might be wrong. Earlier tests revealed that each of their five children suffer from low bone mass. She also wondered whether her children’s state of poor dental health might be related.

“It’s just a naturally occurring thing in the ground. We just happened to tap into it. I believe ours is the highest level the state has ever seen,” Mrs Marks said last week, adding “Once this hits the news, it’s going to go national.”

According to Brian Toll, an epidemiologist with the state health department, uranium is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust and is highly variable in its nature.

“This may be an isolated incident or something that needs to be investigated further. It’s not likely that there is a severe problem in Newtown, but we don’t know for sure,” he told The Bee last week.

Mr Toll said there is a possible link between high levels of uranium and bone deficiencies in humans. Uranium tends to accumulate in the bones, he said.

Mrs Marks’ research on the issue led her to the discovery of a well-publicized problem in Dekalb County, Illinois, where high levels of radium in the drinking water are believed to be the cause of widespread health problems there.

Mrs Marks contacted The Bee last week with her family’s story in the hopes that it might bring public awareness to the potential problem.

“I think the public ought to know about it so they can test their well water and make sure they are not exposing themselves to this naturally occurring environmental hazard.”

Mrs Marks says she would like to see the law changed to require testing of well water supplies before a house is sold or a subdivision is granted approval. The test costs about $150.

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