WHAT ARE RADIONUCLIDES?
Radionuclides are radioactive atoms of various types. Radium, radon, and uranium are the most frequent radionuclides found in drinking water. The majority of radionuclides in drinking water occur naturally at extremely low levels and are not a public health risk. Human activities, such as operating nuclear power plants or other facilities that manufacture or consume radioactive substances, can also release radionuclides into drinking water.
Long-term exposure to relatively high amounts of radionuclides in drinking water can lead to major health concerns such as cancer, anaemia, osteoporosis, cataracts, bone growths, kidney disease, liver illness, and immune system impairment.
WHERE DO RADIONUCLIDES IN WATER COME FROM?
Radiation comes from all directions, including space, the ground, and even our own bodies. Radiation is all around us and has existed since the beginning of time. The majority of radionuclides in drinking water come from natural sources. Radionuclides are naturally occurring radionuclides that are produced in the high atmosphere and present in the Earth's crust. They can be discovered in specific types of rocks that contain trace levels of radioactive uranium, thorium, and/or actinium isotopes (forms). The resultant clays and other minerals may transport radionuclides into drinking water when these rocks weather. Groundwater, such as well water, tends to have higher quantities of radionuclides than surface water, such as lakes and streams.
Radioactivity is produced by several human-made equipment and processes. Colour television, medical tools (x-rays and chemotherapy), coal/lignite power plants, industrial operations, and cigarette smoking are among the items on the list. Radionuclides in water are more likely to come from natural rather than artificial sources.
Radionuclides degrade with time. They produce daughter products that are shorter-lived and "more radioactive" as they decay. Natural uranium and radium, which can accumulate to dangerous quantities in drinking water, are of special concern. Radionuclides emit radioactive particles like alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays as they decay. Humans are affected differently by different types of particles.
WHAT ROLE DO THE RADIONUCLIDES PLAY?
The least penetrating type of radioactive particle, alpha particles can be blocked by a sheet of paper or the skin. Inhaled or eaten, however, they are still hazardous since they come into contact with interior organs. Alpha particles, despite being the least penetrating, produce more damage per unit volume than beta particles or gamma rays. Gamma rays and beta particles deposit their energy over larger distances. A piece of wood or a thin layer of metal, such as aluminium foil, can stop beta particles. Like x-rays, gamma rays can penetrate through the human body and are best guarded by dense objects like lead or thick concrete.
The majority of naturally occurring radionuclides release alpha particles (such as various kinds of uranium and radium), although others (such as radium-228) emit beta particles. Tritium is a naturally occurring radionuclide that produces beta particles. Tritium is created in the upper atmosphere and can be deposited on the surface of the water by rain or snow. It can also leak into the groundwater and collect there. Although natural tritium levels are rarely dangerous, contamination from human activities can result in high quantities of this isotope.
Despite the fact that most water systems have no detectable radionuclide activity, some locations in the country have levels that are much higher than national averages.