The naturally occurring water from the sources like rain, rivers, under the ground, water streams, etc. is base of life on our beautiful planet. Water is just not water. It has all the life-supporting nutrients- Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Copper, Selenium, Potassium. But along with it, there is one more element whose presence can be found in naturally occurring water – Uranium
What is Uranium?
Uranium is a chemical which is silvery-grey metal with weak radioactive in nature. We can see Uranium in ammunition (high-density penetrators) and as a fuel for nuclear power plants (It is to be noted that naturally occurring Uranium is found in different variance, with different levels of radioactive intensity). The Uranium in nature is found in soil and rocks.
Interestingly, a very small amount of Uranium is found in water as well, with the concentration varying from region to region. The amount of Uranium in the water depends on the type of minerals in the soil and bedrock.
For instance, the average concentration of Uranium in water is comparatively higher in the granite bedrock.
The question is how Uranium gets into drinking water sources? Simple, the groundwater receives mineral that contains Uranium and this groundwater make its way to drinking water pipes and taps. The deeper drilled wells have more elevated levels of Uranium than that in dug wells or surface water supplies.
How is water & Uranium Connected?
The next important question is how groundwater gets the Uranium mineral. There are several factors which guide its occurrence:
- Some amount of uranium is contained in aquifer’s rocks. The water-rock interactions can cause the uranium to get extracted from those rocks.
- Oxidation process enhances the extracted uranium’s solubility in water.
- Other chemicals in the groundwater, such as bicarbonate, when interacts with extracted Uranium, can further enhance its solubility in the groundwater.
India’s aquifers are mainly composed of clay, silt, and gravel. These are carried down from mountains when the weathering of land is done by fast-flowing streams or uranium-rich granitic rocks.
Findings of heavy traces of Uranium in the drinking water of Indian States
Health organizations, like WHO (World Health Organization) has set a provisional safe drinking water standard of 30 micrograms of uranium per litre. Any number above this should be a reason to discard the water from drinking and agricultural purposes.
The uranium is not yet included in the list of contaminants monitored under the Bureau of Indian Standards’ Drinking Water Specifications, even after the contamination of groundwater is found in 16 states of India. Apart from this, 26 other districts in North-western India and 9 districts in South-eastern Indian states have also shown positive results for the contamination of Uranium in the states’ groundwater level.
Though the main source of all Uranium contamination is due to natural processes, the human activities to decline groundwater table and pervasiveness of nitrate pollutants from fertilizers and industrial waste is intensifying the issue to worst.
Since the groundwater levels are declining at a greater speed, majorly in Rajasthan and Gujarat, this exposes the shallow groundwater levels to be contaminated by Uranium. A study of around 324 wells was carried out in these two states for the analysis of Uranium isotopes ratios.
In comparison to previous water quality studies, the concentration was found to be above the standards set by health organizations. Similar outcomes came from the water study of the other 14 Indian states.
Problems due to the excessive amount of Uranium
The situation may seem scary in one look and they are, to some extent. But surprisingly, most of the Uranium from the drinking water is eliminated from one’s body, in the form of sweat, urine or faeces.
After drinking the contaminated water, one could feel fatigue or nauseated, dryness of the skin, sore throat, nasal congestion, indigestion or more health problems. The only cause of worry is the human organ Kidney; they are most susceptible to the ill effects of Uranium. Even a small amount Uranium which gets absorbed and carried through the bloodstream, cannot be filtered by Kidney cells. This causes a heavy injury to Kidneys causing many relatable diseases. The problems are due to Uranium’s heavy metal characteristics, but its radioactive property has a very low effect, especially bathing or showering with Uranium dirtied water does not pose health concerns.
In India, it is of foremost importance to include a Uranium standard in the Bureau of Indian Standards’ Drinking Water Specification, based on Uranium’s kidney-harming effects.
There are some measures being carried out in the other countries of the world:
Reverse osmosis removes uranium
The process of filtering most of the impurities from the water by passing it through a very fine membrane is called reverse osmosis. This method is effective against contaminants such as Uranium. During the process, the dissolved Uranium is left behind on the membrane. A pre-filter must be installed before the reverse osmosis system.
Distillation removes uranium
Boiling the amount of water removes almost every impurity present in it. The method is equally effective in removing Uranium impurity as well.
A distillation system can be set to do this process on a larger scale. The water is boiled till the water vapour starts to rise; the Uranium impurity is trapped as scales in the boiling chamber and treated water is condensed again in the storage container to be used for consumption.
Keep a check on human activities
The best way is to keep a check on the human-infested pollution in the form of nitrates and chemical waste. There is an urgent need of practices to treat industrial waste & to prevent it from getting into water streams and the groundwater aquifers.
Rainwater harvesting & borewell recharge can also help – Think Chaitanya for solutions and products
This sound strange, but not out of the context; rainwater harvesting, and groundwater recharge activities can indirectly help in improving the acceptable Uranium levels in the drinking water. This is how they do it.
The depleted levels of groundwater have been replenished with the help of setting up groundwater recharge structure (direct and indirect recharge through borewell recharging). These recharge structures have filtration screens that can keep out the impurities and increase the water quality every time the water is passed through them, at different levels.
Chaitanya products has a well-experienced team of professionals that could help with rainwater harvesting services to analyse the potential of a land for the purpose of rainwater harvesting and recharging. Even the most modern filtration systems can be found here. Check out more of their products and services.