Sunday, January 24, 2010

Browns Mills Well 11 Contaminated with Radium 88Ra

Browns Mills Well Contaminated

Well Closed for safety concerns in Pemberton

By Mark Zimmaro
Burlington County Times

PEMBERTOWN TOWNSHIP – Township officials said they are taking a cautious approach in shutting down the main drinking water well in the Browns Mills section.

Well No. 11 off Trenton Road showed a level of radium that tested above the state Department of Environmental Protection’s standards for safe drinking water.

Though township officials were not required to shut down the well they decided to pull the plug shortly before Christmas as a precaution after the Dec. 16 testing. The well is one of six that were in service in December.

Officials said that the chances of health risks because of the well are minuscule and the demand for water is much less during the winter months.

“We’re taking proactive steps not required of us that we feel are in the best interest of the residents,” Mayor David Patriarca said Wednesday. “We figured we can shut down this well down at this time of year when we don’t really need it and not jeopardize anything, just to be safe.”

Patriarca said residents affected by Well No. 11 will be notified by Jan. 21. The township’s wells are tested annually. This was the first occurrence of radium in Well No. 11, officials said.

It is important for the residents of the water system to note that this is not an immediate risk,” municipal engineer Chris Rehmann said in a report to the Township Council. “However, certain minerals are radioactive and may emit a form of radiation known as alpha radiation. Some people who drink water containing alpha emitters in excess of the maximum contaminant levels over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets drinking water standards and has determined that radium poses health concerns at certain levels of exposure. The EPA determined that the lifetime risk associated with drinking water containing radium affects 1 in 10,000 people.

This means that if 10,000 people were to consume 2 liters of this water per day for 70 years, we would expect to see one additional concern in the 10,000 people exposed,” Rehmann said.

The township is looking into alternatives to compensate for the loss of the water source, such as cleaning Well No. 11 or revisiting wells that were shut down in the past because the township no longer needed their serviceds.

BCT staff writer Mark Zimmaro can be reached at 609-871-8059 or at

January 8, 2010 12:09 PM

Radium (pronounced /ˈreɪdiəm/, RAY-dee-əm) is a radioactive chemical element which has the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. Its appearance is almost pure white, but it readily oxidizes on exposure to air, turning black. Radium is an alkaline earth metal that is found in trace amounts in uranium ores. It is extremely radioactive. Its most stable isotope, 226Ra, has a half-life of 1602 years and decays into radon gas

The heaviest of the alkaline earth metals, radium is intensely radioactive and resembles barium in its chemical behavior. This metal is found in tiny quantities in the uranium ore pitchblende, and various other uranium minerals. Radium preparations are remarkable for maintaining themselves at a higher temperature than their surroundings, and for their radiations, which are of three kinds: alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays.

When freshly prepared, pure radium metal is brilliant white, but blackens when exposed to air (probably due to nitride formation). Radium is luminescent (giving a faint blue color), reacts violently with water and oil to form radium hydroxide and is slightly more volatile than barium. The normal phase of radium is a solid.

Radium (Latin radius, ray) was discovered by Marie Skłodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre in 1898 in pitchblende coming from North Bohemia, in the Czech Republic (area around Jáchymov). While studying pitchblende the Curies removed uranium from it and found that the remaining material was still radioactive. They then separated out a radioactive mixture consisting mostly of barium which gave a brilliant green flame color and crimson carmine spectral lines which had never been documented before. The Curies announced their discovery to the French Academy of Sciences on 26 December 1898.[5]

In 1910, radium was isolated as a pure metal by Curie and André-Louis Debierne through the electrolysis of a pure radium chloride solution by using a mercury cathode and distilling in an atmosphere of hydrogen gas.[6]
Radium was first industrially produced in the beginning of the 20th Century by Biraco, a subsidiary company of Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK) in its Olen plant in Belgium. UMHK offered to Marie Curie her first gramme of radium.

Radium is a decay product of uranium and is therefore found in all uranium-bearing ores. (One ton of pitchblende yields one seventh of a gram of radium).[8

Radium is over one million times more radioactive than the same mass of uranium. Its decay occurs in at least seven stages; the successive main products have been studied and were called radium emanation or exradio (now identified as radon), radium A (polonium), radium B (lead), radium C (bismuth), etc. Radon is a heavy gas and the later products are solids. These products are themselves radioactive elements, each with an atomic weight a little lower than its predecessor.
Radium loses about 1% of its activity in 25 years, being transformed into elements of lower atomic weight with lead being the final product of disintegration.
The SI unit of radioactivity is the becquerel (Bq), equal to one disintegration per second. The Curie is a non-SI unit defined as that amount of radioactivity which has the same disintegration rate as 1 gram of Ra-226 (3.7 x 1010 disintegrations per second, or 37 GBq).

Handling of radium has been blamed for Marie Curie's premature death.

• Radium is highly radioactive and its decay product, radon gas, is also radioactive. Since radium is chemically similar to calcium, it has the potential to cause great harm by replacing it in bones. Inhalation, injection, ingestion or body exposure to radium can cause cancer and other disorders. Stored radium should be ventilated to prevent accumulation of radon.

• Emitted energy from the decay of radium ionizes gases, affects photographic plates, causes sores on the skin, and produces many other detrimental effects.