RALEIGH — Wake County is notifying thousands of households on private wells that their drinking water may have unhealthy levels of radiological chemicals like uranium and radon.
An estimated one in five private wells in eastern Wake County may exceed safe drinking-water standards for some chemicals, officials said at a Monday news conference. They plan to notify 19,000 property owners by mail starting this week.
People don't need to panic, said Evan Kane, the county's groundwater protection and wells manager. The best next step is to get private well water tested, he said.
At least one household has 20 times the acceptable level of uranium in the water, Kane said.
As previously reported by The News & Observer, Wake County first learned of the high levels of unhealthy chemicals in 2010 after a water sample from southeast Raleigh showed high levels of uranium.
From 2010 to 2014, the county tested about 400 wells and found the high levels of unsafe chemicals. Some people began getting notified in 2016; mass notifications didn't start until this week.
In a previous interview, Kane said the county didn't have enough staff to meet the demand for testing if everyone was notified. To address that concern now, Wake County will only test wells of people with limited income. See details below.
What unhealthy chemicals are in the water?
Radon, radium and uranium.
What's the risk?
The contaminants are odorless, colorless and tasteless, and the only way to know if they are in a well is by testing the water.
Drinking water with too much uranium can cause kidney toxicity. And, longer term, high levels of uranium or radium can increase the risks of certain cancers. There is also an increased risk of certain types of cancer from drinking or bathing in water with too much radon.
How did they get there?
The chemicals are naturally occurring in the granite that covers the eastern part of the county. It is not caused by humans or industry.
Have people already gotten sick?
Wake County has already encountered two people who were sick, possibly from their water. The county was told their doctors asked that their well water be tested and that the water was believed to be related to their illness, Kane has said previously. On Monday he said the county hasn't heard of any new sick people.
How many wells are affected?
There are about 40,000 private wells in Wake County, and half of those are on the eastern part of the county. About one in five of those wells need to be tested so 4,000 to 6,000.
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