How to Remove Radiation from Water

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Radioactive elements might sound like uncommon water contaminants, but they’re actually often found in drinking water supplies – especially those that come from a groundwater source, like a well. These contaminants can have dangerous health effects when they’re ingested over long periods, including cancer.

Here, we’ve shared everything you should know about the 5 best treatment methods to remove radiation from water.

📌 Key Takeaways:

  • Radiation is used to refer to a number of radioactive contaminants, including uranium, radium, cesium, thorium, and iodine 131.
  • Some of the possible health effects of long-term exposure to radioactive water include cancer and internal organ damage.
  • You can remove radioactive substances from your water with reverse osmosis, activated carbon, ion exchange, aeration, and zeolite, depending on whether radioactive particles or dissolved gases are present.

💡 What Is Radiation?

Radiation in water occurs when water is contaminated with radioactive materials, which emit radiation.

There are different types of radioactive substances, including:

Man-made ElementsNatural Elements
CaliforniumNeptunium
CuriumPolonium
Iodine 131Radium
PlutoniumRadon
StrontiumThorium
TechnetiumUranium

Your water supply may contain radioactive particles if you live in a region with mining operations or industrial activity, which increases the likelihood of contamination of local water sources by radioactive material.

Radiation in water

❓ Is Radiation in Water Harmful?

Yes, radiation in water is considered harmful, and there are several known health effects of exposure to radioactive particles in your drinking water (discussed in more detail later).

The severity of the risks associated with radiation in water depends on factors which radioactive isotopes are present and in what concentrations, as well as the length of the exposure period and how much water you consume.

🤔 How Does Radiation Get Into Drinking Water?

There are a few ways that radiation can get into drinking water, including:

  • From natural sources – Radioactive particles are present naturally in the ground – in some regions more than others. If you live in an area with high levels of naturally occurring radioactive elements, these are more likely to be present in your local water supply. Some of the natural elements found in the Earth’s crust are radium, uranium, and thorium.
  • Mining and oil drilling – Mining operations that extract uranium and radium increase the concentration of radioactive substances in the environment, including water sources. Fracking and drilling also cause radioactive particles to be released from rock formations due to ground disturbance.
  • Leaks and spills – Sometimes, radioactive waste ends up polluting water sources by mistake, due to an accidental leak or spill. This can be particularly dangerous, especially if the spillage isn’t discovered immediately.
Testing a water sample for radiation

📑 Possible Health Effects of Radiation

There are a few different possible health effects of radiation in water, depending on the types of radioactive contaminants that are present.

The biggest known health risk associated with exposure to radioactive drinking water is cancer. Radiation has been linked to gene mutations, which, in turn, are linked to an increased risk of the development of cancer.

There’s a lot that we still don’t know about the possible health effects of radiation when ingested in tap water, and more conclusive data is needed to help us understand exactly how radioactive water may affect the human body.

✅ How to Remove Radiation from Tap Water

Below, we’ve outlined the best methods to remove radiation from your drinking water.

1) Activated Carbon

Activated carbon filtration is capable of removing up to 99% of certain types of radiation from drinking water.

Activated carbon filters work by adsorbing contaminants onto their filter media, preventing them from passing through the filter pores with water molecules.

One type of carbon filter, called a granular activated carbon filter, is best for removing dissolved gases like radon. You can find GAC filters in a variety of water treatment systems, including under-sink systems, water filter pitchers, and whole-home filtration systems.

It’s a good idea to look for a GAC filter that’s installed at water’s point of entry into your home, meaning that it removes radioactive contaminants from your entire plumbing system and prevents you from being exposed to these contaminants at any of your fixtures, including all your faucets and showerheads.

You’ll need to safely dispose of your used carbon filter media, keeping in mind that the media will have accumulated low levels of radioactive particles throughout its use period.

Activated carbon filter cartridge

2) Aeration

If you have gaseous radionuclides in your water, like radon, the best method of removing these contaminants is with aeration.

Aeration works by sending air bubbles through your water, causing radioactive gas particles to break down rapidly. These particles are then carried out of the unit – and out of your home – via a fan.

Aeration can reduce radioactive gases up to 99%, and you don’t have to worry about these contaminants accumulating inside the system. It eliminates the gases before they enter your home, so it’s an effective solution to prevent your exposure to radiation via inhalation.

3) Reverse Osmosis

Reverse osmosis is an effective way to reduce some, but not all, radioactive materials. The process combines activated carbon with a semi-permeable membrane, providing comprehensive water treatment.

A reverse osmosis membrane has very tiny pores that can trap contaminants as small as 0.001 microns, including radium and uranium. This method of water treatment is recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove radioactive isotopes that emit beta-particle radiation.

However, the RO water treatment process can’t effectively remove gaseous contaminants, so you can’t rely on it to remove radioactive gases, like radon. That’s why it’s important to confirm the types of radioactive contaminants in your water when deciding on the most suitable treatment system for your situation.

Many reverse osmosis units are installed underneath your kitchen sink or on your kitchen countertop. There are also whole-home reverse osmosis units, but these are less popular due to their high upfront expense and costly maintenance.

The main benefit of most reverse osmosis membranes is that they remove the majority of total dissolved solids, including most chemicals, metals, and microorganisms. But reverse osmosis water treatment also produces wastewater, so it’s not ideal for everyone.

Reverse osmosis membrane cartridge

4) Ion Exchange

Ion exchange is another water treatment method that has proven effective in reducing radioactive materials in water.

This treatment has been successful in removing trace quantities of radionuclides (radioactive forms of elements, like radium-226, cesium-137, and strontium-90) from liquid wastes produced by nuclear power plants.

Ion exchange works by sending water through a resin that contains exchangeable ions. When water comes into contact with the resin, ion exchange occurs – the ions on the resin surface are exchanged for the radioactive ions in the water.

There are a few different radioactive materials that are removed by ion exchange, depending on the type of resin used and whether the exchangeable ions are cations (with a positive charge) or anions (with a negative charge).

Uranium is an anion, and it’s typically exchanged with chloride or another similar anion. Radium is a cation and is often exchanged with sodium or potassium (the ions that are used in water softeners).

Related: Anion vs Cation Exchange: What’s the Difference?

5) Zeolite

Zeolite is a lesser-known water filter media that’s made from natural or synthetic aluminosilicate minerals with a unique porous structure that allows them to take on the role of molecular sieves.

In a 2011 study, synthetic zeolite A4 was found to efficiently remove cesium, strontium, and barium, while natural zeolite was equally capable of removing cesium but couldn’t remove strontium or barium as efficiently.

The study highlighted that zeolite was capable of removing these elements when activated carbon had “little removal effects”.

Presently, zeolite filters are most commonly used to remove ammonia in aquariums. But there are a few brands selling zeolite water filters for under-sink and whole-home water filtration systems.

Zeolite media

💯 What’s The Best Way To Remove Radiation From Water?

The best way to remove radiation from tap water depends on the types and quantities of radioactive materials that are present.

For instance, reverse osmosis is ideal for removing uranium and radium, but there’s no point in using a reverse osmosis system if the main radioactive contaminant in your water is a gas like radon.

In some cases, if you’re dealing with several types of radiation in your water, it will make the most sense to combine multiple treatment systems to more comprehensively address the issue than with a single treatment system alone.

🔎 How To Know If A Water Filter System Can Remove Radiation

The best way to know if a water filter can remove radiation is to first check that the filter is one of the water filters or treatment systems we’ve mentioned in this guide, then check the product listing for more information.

Ideally, the manufacturer should share a contaminant removal sheet that tells you exactly what their water system can remove.

You can refer to this sheet when determining which types of radioactive materials are targeted by the treatment process, and to what extent they’re removed.

If the manufacturer doesn’t share this data online, contact customer service and ask if you can see proof of the system’s contaminant removal abilities. You can also ask directly whether the system has been tested to remove the specific radioactive contaminants that you’re concerned about in your drinking water supply.

Contacting the manufacturer

📑 Final Word

Radioactive materials are no joke, and we don’t blame you if you’re concerned about these dangerous impurities in your drinking water.

Our advice is to test your contaminated water to learn which radioactive materials you need to address in your water, then start looking at suitable treatment systems for the job.

❔ Frequently Asked Questions

Can radiation be boiled out of water?

No, boiling water won’t reduce or remove any radioactive contaminants. When you heat water to boiling, some of the water vaporizes, reducing the volume of water in the pot while retaining the same concentration of radioactive particles.

How long does radiation contaminate water?

Different radioactive contaminants have different half-lives, which determines how long they’ll contaminate water. For instance, cesium-137 has a long half-life of 30 years, while iodine-131 decays much faster due to its shorter 8-day half-life.

Does Brita filter radiation?

No, Brita water filter pitchers can’t filter radiation. You’ll need a specialized water treatment system, often one that blends multiple different filtration media, to reduce radiological impurities. Brita’s basic carbon filters aren’t capable of removing these contaminants.

Can radioactive water be distilled?

Yes, radioactive water can be distilled, and water distillers are highly effective at removing a number of radiological particles from water, including uranium. That makes water distillation a good water treatment to consider if you have radioactive water that you want to purify.

Can radiation be cleaned from water?

Yes, radiation can be cleaned from water with one of several water treatment processes. A combination of various filters, including activated carbon, ion exchange, and reverse osmosis, delivers the best results. Make sure to test your water so you know exactly which radioactive contaminants you need to address.

  • Brian Campbell
    President & CEO, CWS, CWR

    Brian Campbell, a WQA Certified Water Specialist (CWS) and Certified Water Treatment Representative (CWR) with 5+ years of experience, helps homeowners navigate the world of water treatment. After honing his skills at Hach Company, he founded his business to empower homeowners with the knowledge and tools to achieve safe, healthy water. Brian's tested countless devices, from simple pitchers to complex systems, helping his readers find the perfect fit for their unique needs.

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