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Uranium

Uranium is a weakly radioactive heavy metal that occurs naturally. Rocks, soil, surface and ground water, air, plants, and animals (including humans) all contain varying amounts of uranium.
There are many naturally occurring uranium deposits in New Mexico. Although it has been detected in some areas of the state, it has not been detected in all areas. It has been detected in Morrison Formation sandstone, other sandstone, limestone, and other sedimentary rocks.
Some geographical regions of the United States, particularly southwestern states such as New Mexico, have concentrated natural deposits of uranium and extensive historic uranium ore mining and milling activities. For these reasons, some areas may have higher than average uranium levels, which may result in increased human exposure.
The primary way people are exposed to uranium is through ingesting drinking water and food, especially root vegetables grown in uranium-containing soil. Most of the ingested uranium in drinking water or food leaves the human body, but some may go into the bloodstream and then to the bone and various internal organs such as the liver and kidneys, where it can be stored for many years.

Common sources of uranium related to drinking water and food include:
  • Some foods, especially root vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips, turnips, and sweet potatoes grown in soils with high concentrations of uranium.
  • Internal organs of livestock raised in areas with high levels of uranium in the rocks, soil, and water.
  • Some drinking water sources, especially in areas known to have high levels of uranium in the rocks and soil.
  • Certain older ceramic or porcelain glazed cookware and food storage containers.
Uranium has many commercial uses, including nuclear weapons and nuclear fuel, X-ray agents, pigments for the ceramic industry, coloring porcelain, enameling, and in production of fluorescent glass. People may be exposed in certain jobs, such as those involving the mining and processing of uranium ore.

Common sources of uranium related to occupations include:
  • Water, soil and dust in areas near uranium mining, processing, and manufacturing facilities.
  • Some phosphate fertilizers.
In areas with naturally-occurring high levels of uranium, the presence of indoor radon is another potential health concern. Bathing and showering with water that contains radon gas dissolved in it, or living in a home with high levels of radon gas may be a health concern because inhalation of this gas may result in the development of lung cancer. Learn more about radon here
There are some possible health concerns related to the kidney from excessive exposure to uranium. The kidney is the most sensitive organ for uranium toxicity. Some studies have shown small changes in the way kidneys work when people drink water with large amounts of uranium for a long time (usually more than 2-5 years). These changes, however, seem to go away when people stop drinking this water with high-levels of uranium.

How Common Are Kidney Health Concerns?

We do not know how common kidney problems related to uranium exposure are among the general population of the state. Furthermore, we cannot determine with available data what level of exposure to uranium would cause these problems to develop.
The New Mexico Department of Health, through its programs in the Environmental Health Epidemiology Bureau, work on various projects to collect data about drinking water quality constituents to help New Mexicans better understand potential exposure.

Private Wells

If your water comes from a private well, and you live in an area with known uranium in the soil, have the drinking water tested for uranium. Learn more about testing options and certified labs in New Mexico. If uranium levels are high, (above the recommend maximum containment level of 30 micrograms per liter or mcg/L) you should consider various treatment/filtration options, or consuming water from a different source. Learn about treatment options.

Learn more about available data on uranium in New Mexico private wells.

Learn more about private wells water quality.

Learn more about biomonitoring.

Public Water Supply

If your water comes from a public water supply, it will regularly be tested for uranium. See the health indicator report for uranium concentration in community water systems.
There are practical steps you can take to minimize your exposure to uranium.
  • Check your drinking water. Have private well drinking water tested for uranium. If your water comes from a public water supply, it will regularly be tested for uranium. If uranium levels are high, consider various treatment/filtration options, or consuming water from a different source.
  • Always wash fruits and vegetables. It is recommended that you peel and discard the outside portion of root vegetables.
  • Watch what your children put in their mouths. Parents should discourage their children from eating dirt which could contain uranium and other harmful particles such as lead paint chips.
  • If you work with uranium, take precautions. Avoid bringing uranium-containing dust home on your clothing, skin, hair, or tools. Wash or shower at your worksite if that is an option. Do not wash your work clothes with your family's regular laundry. Remove your shoes before entering your house.
  • Test for Radon. Consider testing your home for indoor radon gas through New Mexico's low-cost test program. Learn more.
Uranium in urine at a level greater than 0.2 mcg/L is a notifiable condition in New Mexico and must be reported to the New Mexico Department of Health Environmental Health Epidemiology Bureau by a lab or health facility that ordered the lab. A notifiable condition or disease means a disease or condition of public health importance required by 7.4.3.12 New Mexico Administrative Code to be reported to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Labs and medical facilities may send lab reports via secured fax to: 505-827-2110, Attn: EHEB.
For guidance, please call 1 888-878-8992 or 505-827-0006.

There are medical tests that can determine whether a person has been exposed to excessive amounts of uranium. Urine testing for uranium is the recommended standard test. Because most uranium leaves the body in urine within a few days of exposure, a urine test will show whether there was exposure to a larger-than-normal amount within the last week or so. Elevated urine-uranium levels will indicate uranium exposure but do not necessarily indicate health problems.
Uranium and Health Fact Sheet.

Learn more about available data on uranium in New Mexico private wells.

Learn more about uranium biomonitoring in New Mexico.

Grants Mineral Belt Uranium Biomonitoring Project Summary

In 2010 the Department of Health's Environmental Health Epidemiology Bureau (EHEB) worked in the Grants Mineral Belt area as part of public health surveillance for uranium exposure. A description can be found here:

https://nmtracking.org/environment/Biomonitoring.html.

New Mexico Depleted Uranium Project

The Epidemiology and Response Division/Environmental Health Epidemiology Bureau (EHEB) of the New Mexico Department of Health conducted the tasks outlined in the 2007 legislation of Senate Bill (SB) 611 in regard to a voluntary testing program for military veterans who may have been exposed to depleted uranium or other uranium isotopes.

A description can be found here:

https://nmtracking.org/environment/Biomonitoring.html.
The NM EPHT website is supported by Cooperative Agreement Number, 6 NUE1EH001354 (previously, 5 U38EH000949), funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC or do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Thu, 22 August 2019 10:32:34 from New Mexico EPHT Tracking Public Web site: https://nmtracking.org/ ".

Content updated: Fri, 28 Jun 2019 17:53:22 MDT