Some wells may have high levels of contaminants


A continuing study shows that some Western North Carolina wells contain radon at levels that are potentially unsafe.

Residents of some mountain counties are generally at greater risk of exposure to the cancer-causing compound because the region's rock is rich in uranium, said Ted Campbell, a hydrogeologist with the N.C. Division of Water Quality.

The division is in the second phase of a study examining the extent to which naturally occurring contaminants such as radon, uranium and radium are in well water. There were 103 private wells sampled last year in Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania counties, and this year the study includes Mitchell, Madison and Watauga counties.

Testing of the samples revealed that most contained concentrations of radon well above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards proposed 10 years ago, Campbell said. But Congress has not enacted the standards, in part, because scientists are still trying to determine what constitutes a safe level of radon in drinking water, he said.

Breathing radon inside homes is the primary health risk from radon, contributing to about 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the United States, according to a report from the National Academy of Sciences. The radon seeps into the air from the ground below the home.

Eight North Carolina counties Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania, Rockingham, Alleghany, Watauga, Mitchell and Cherokee are classified by the EPA as particularly susceptible to indoor air radon.

The danger from radon in well water primarily comes when it's released into the home air from the use of water in showers, dishwashers and washing machines.

Dave Stewart volunteered to have the water tested in the well at his Henderson County home through the study last year. It was found to have levels of radon far above the proposed standard.

Residents can have their well tested by local companies. Campbell said the cost ranges from about $20 to $50.

by Clarke Morrison

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