Excessive uranium levels found in city water

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

Uranium in the city of Tucumcari’s water supply has exceeded the maximum allowed by federal guidelines and the city has quit using three wells to help alleviate the problem, city officials said.

Uranium is toxic to the kidneys and over a long period, in large quantities, may cause cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports.

City officials said there is not an immediate health risk.
City Manager Richard Primrose said he had consulted his own physician and said he was told he would have to drink numerous gallons per day, for many years, to have his kidneys affected.

The city’s drinking water is brought together for distribution to residences at the Center Street tank. In efforts to reduce the amount of uranium in the drinking water, more water from wells that have reduced levels of uranium is being put into the tank and less water from those wells that have higher levels of uranium is being pumped into the tank, city officials said.

The city’s plan has to be submitted to the state for review and approval, said Mike Huber, state district manager for the Water Bureau.

Huber said it’s not unusual for cities in New Mexico to have some level of uranium in their water supply.

“Uranium is naturally occurring throughout New Mexico and there have been uranium mines,” he said.

The city received notice in a letter Monday that its uranium levels were too high. The letter is from Hydrogist Donald R. Clark, of the state’s Drinking Water Bureau, Environment Department, in Clovis.
The notice was triggeredd because Tucumcari’s running yearly average was above the maximum allowed levels, Clark said.

Clark that the city had been over the level in 2005 and earlier in 2006, but its recent tests in May and June, put the city’s average above the limit.

“The city’s water will be tested every quarter,” said Clark, “until it has four clean quarters.”

The letter read: “The system must come back into compliance as soon as possible. Compliance could be achieved through the blending of water from the lower uranium producing wells with water from the higher wells or through water treatment methods such as Reverse Osmosis.”

City water superintendent Charlie Sandoval said Tucumcari will try blending its water.

Also, according to a notice that is to be sent to all of the city’s water customers, “This is not an immediate risk. If it had been, you would have been notified immediately. However, exposure to uranium in drinking water may result in toxic effects to the kidney. Some people who drink water containing alpha emitters, such as Uranium, in excess of the MCL (maximum contaminant level) over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.”

There are two type of contaminants, Huber said.

Chronic contaminants, such as uranium, lead and copper, require monitoring and are known to cause a risk over a long period of time, Huber said. This is the issue with Tucumcari’s water.

Acute contaminants are more serious and require immediate action, Huber said — not a concern in Tucumcari’s water.

The three wells that are no longer being pumped for water are at 10th and Campbell Street, 10th and Maple Street and at Maple and Eighth Street, Sandoval said.

The EPA defines the maximum contaminant level as 30 micrograms per liter
l The wells no longer being used measured:
Campbell and 10th Street: 48.2 mpl;
Maple and 10th Street: 48.6 mpl;
Maple and Eighth Street: 43.3 mpl.
l Two other wells that exceeded the maximum level are:
Campbell and Ninth Street: 35.5 mpl;
14th and Railroad Avenue: 35.4 mpl.

Water from these two wells are being blended with the water that has lesser amounts of uranium, city officials said.
For its water supply, the city relies on 22 wells.

There are 11 wells from the Estrada Sandstone aquifer at Five-Mile Park, two wells in the Hoover well field, which is beyond Cemetery Road, and 10 wells in what is called the Town Field pump water from alluvium deposits.

The town field is where the three wells are to be closed.

The EPA sets the allowable limits of radionuclides, such a uranium, as well as other contaminants and issues requirements for testing. While lead and copper have had regulated levels for some time, the EPA began in 2000 to set guidelines and deadlines for testing for the allowable limits of uranium in drinking water supplies.