Good riddance, radium: Ion-exchange provides clean water in Lake Zurich, Ill.
Public Works Director Dave Heyden in the Village of Lake Zurich's ion-exchange facility.
Story by Marie Donahue, Photos by Emily Cikanek
When one reads “radioactive material” and “groundwater” in the same sentence, it is easy to get a little nervous. Yet many people don’t realize that trace levels of radioactive materials, or “radionuclides,” are found naturally in some of the deep bedrock aquifers many of us in the Chicago area rely on for drinking water. These elements, most commonly the isotopes of Radium-226 and Radium-228, “occur naturally in rock formations deep below the surface of the earth and enter the deep aquifer water supply by bonding with the mineral deposits in the water,” explains David Heyden, who has become quite familiar with radium contamination issues over the past five years in his role as the Village of Lake Zurich’s public works director.
As “natural” as radium is, it certainly is not good for us. Exposure to elevated levels of radium in drinking water is linked to greater risk of bone cancer. Bones absorb the radiation, and it accumulates in the body. For that reason, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that potable water contain less than 5 picocuries per liter of radium (a picocurie measures how many bursts of radiation a radium atom gives off per second.) For reference, the deep wells supplying water to the Village of Lake Zurich contained natural radium levels in the range of 5 to 15 picocuries per liter.
That’s where modern engineering and savvy water practitioners like Heyden come into the picture. Communities entrust these professionals with developing creative solutions to the most pressing water supply concerns, including removing excess radium from our drinking water.
Water conservation tips
Observe local water conservation ordinances. For example, the Village of Lake Zurich Water enforces water conservation guidelines from June 1 through Sept. 15 for lawn watering and other outdoor uses, which are only permitted between the hours of 5 to 10 a.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Be sure to check with your local water department and observe any water conservation ordinances to save water and avoid unnecessary fines!
Reuse water on a residential or commercial scale. An action as simple as using the water collected from your dehumidifier or air conditioning unit to water plants can help reduce the amount of water needed to be withdrawn and treated from our region’s deep wells.
Install native landscaping with deep rooted prairie plants. Native vegetation helps infiltrate water back into the ground. Not only does this help recharge our region’s surface water and shallow aquifers, but plant roots are also great at filtering unwanted chemicals and contaminants out of stormwater runoff.
The WOWW factor
2 million gallons per day
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