Everyone needs water to survive. But in the United States of America, more than 170 million people are drinking radioactive water, according to a new study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The consumption of radioactive elements may increase the risk of cancer, which is why this revelation is so concerning. Fortunately, a new interactive map reveals the locations the radioactive water has been found. This may enable citizens to find an alternate source of aqua until the public health crisis is fixed.

For its investigation, the EWG analyzed nearly 50,000 public water systems in all 50 US states. The group found that the water supply consumed by 170 million Americans contain radioactive elements. In 27 states, water supplies exceeded the EPA’s legal limits. Consumption of radioactive elements is linked with an elevated risk of cancer, as well as harm to fetal growth and brain development.

Credit: EWG

According to the EWG, the most common radioactive element in American tap water is radium. Radium enters groundwater naturally through openings in the Earth’s crust. Activities such as oil and gas drilling tend to disturb the deposits from the rock and the soil; this can release ions (known as “ionizing”). The EPA categorizes ionized radiation as “carcinogenic” and set safe limits in 1976. However, the EWG says the legal limits are outdated.

This was made apparent when nearly all samples from the investigation exceeded California state scientists’ public health goals for two separate radium isotopes, set in 2006. They are hundreds of times more stringent than the EPA’s standard for the two isotopes combined. As IFLScience points out, if California standards were upheld in all 50 states, no more than one case of cancer per one million people would be due to the water supply. As it is, the EPA levels allow for 70 cases per 1 million people.

Credit: Fast Company

Said Olga Naidenko, PhD and EWG’s senior science advisor for children’s environmental health:

“Most radioactive elements in tap water come from natural sources, but that doesn’t take away the need to protect people through stronger standards and better water treatment. Millions of Americans are drinking water with potentially harmful levels of radioactive elements, but the outdated federal standards mean many people don’t know about the risk they face when they turn on the tap.”

Which state had the most radium in its water supply? That would be Texas. Approximately 80 percent of residents in the Lone Star state has radium in its water supply. To help consumers know if they are drinking radium-contaminated water, the EWG released an interactive map that requires only a zip code. Find it by clicking here.

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h/t EWG, IFLScience