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Johnston County warns some private wells may have ‘toxic levels’ of unsafe chemicals

How to test your well water for uranium and radon

Wake County released a video describing how to collect and test your well water for uranium, radon, gross alpha and beta particles.
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Wake County released a video describing how to collect and test your well water for uranium, radon, gross alpha and beta particles.

Johnston County is warning households with private wells in the northern and western part of the county that their water may be contaminated with unsafe levels of uranium, radon and radium.

The notice was sent Thursday afternoon and after Wake County began notifying 19,000 property owners that some wells in the eastern part of Wake County may be contaminated.

Both counties are urging people to see if they’re in the affected area. If they are and have a private well, they are encouraged to get their well water tested.

“If your well water is tested and confirmed to be contaminated with a toxic level of uranium, radon and/or radium, then stop consumption immediately,” a letter posted on Johnston County’s website said.

“Consume only bottled water until the issue is resolved,” it continued. “A water treatment system that uses reverse osmosis or an ion exchange can be installed. Another option is to disconnect from the well and connect to public water where available. You can check the availability of public water by contacting your local municipality or Johnston County Public Utilities.”

The minerals are naturally occurring in granite below the ground. People in Johnston County can see if they’re in the affected area by going to bit.ly/NCGeologyMap and looking at the light pink portion of the map called “Late Paleozoic Intrusives.” The granite extends past Wake County and into parts of Franklin, Johnston, Vance and Warren counties.

The county’s public information officer referred questions to the environmental health department. An environmental health employee said the director was out of town until next week and referred questions back to the letter on the department’s website.

An employee answering the phone in the department said they’ve been “bombarded” with calls since Wake County began notifying its residents Monday.

An estimated one in five private wells in eastern Wake County may exceed safe drinking-water standards for some chemicals, officials said at a press conference Monday. Long-term exposure to uranium, radon and radium can increase the risk of certain types of cancer.

Anna Johnson covers Raleigh and Wake County for the News & Observer. She has previously covered city government, crime and business for newspapers across North Carolina and received many North Carolina Press Association awards, including first place for investigative reporting. She is a 2012 alumna of Elon University. Reach her at 919-829-4807 or ajohnson@newsobserver.com.
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