Is Drinking Water Safe in Pennsylvania?

On Friday, concentrations of Iodine-131, likely originating from the events at Japan’s damaged nuclear plants, were found in rainwater samples collected from Pennsylvania’s nuclear power plant facilities.

However, Governor Tom Corbett said Monday that weekend testing of public drinking water found no elevated levels of radioactivity.

The numbers reported in the rainwater samples in Pennsylvania range from 40-100 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Although these are levels above the background levels historically reported in these areas, they are still about 25 times below the level that would be of concern. The federal drinking water standard for Iodine-131 is three pCi/L.

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As a result of the findings, Corbett ordered the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Bureau of Water Quality, Radiation Protection and Laboratories to test the drinking water from six regions in the state.

Samples were taken from facilities in Norristown, East Stroudsburg, Harrisburg, Williamsport, Greenville and Pittsburgh. After repeated testing throughout the weekend, results showed normal levels of radioactivity and no Iodine-131 above the federal limit. In fact, no Iodine-131 was detected in the drinking water samples.

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“We have been proactive and conducted immediate drinking water tests to provide hard facts, assuring the public that the water they drink is safe,” Corbett said.

On Friday, rainwater samples were taken in Harrisburg, where levels were 41 pCi/L and at nuclear power plants at TMI and Limerick, where levels were 90 to 100 pCi/L.

Corbett emphasized that the drinking water is safe and there is no cause for health concerns. State officials will continue to carefully monitor the situation, Corbett said, and will keep the public informed.

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“Rainwater is not typically directly consumed,” Corbett said. “However, people might get alarmed by making what would be an inappropriate connection from rainwater to drinking water. By testing the drinking water, we can assure people that the water is safe.”

Rainwater is diluted by water in reservoirs and rivers or filters through the ground – and it is treated before reaching consumers as drinking water – it would not be expected to be a concern in public water systems.

While the radioactive element is believed to have originated from Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, it is not considered to be a health risk in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in the country. Similar testing in other states, including California, Massachusetts and Washington, has shown comparable levels of Iodine-131 in rainwater samples.

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“We do not expect the levels to increase and, in fact, the levels we see now should go down rather quickly over the next three months,” Corbett said.

“DEP has an extensive network of radiation monitoring points at the nuclear plants and elsewhere, and we will continue to monitor water supplies to ensure there is no risk of contamination to the public,” Corbett added.

Any Iodine-131 concentrations detected in rainwater samples are significantly higher than might be detected in a surface body of water, such as a lake or a pond.

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Air quality is also being examined and test results are expected later this week. As soon as results are available, Corbett said, they will be made public.

DEP will continue to work with Pennsylvania’s public water suppliers to enhance their monitoring and treatment operations as necessary. Residents whose drinking water originates from groundwater, and obtained from wells or springs, should not be affected.

DEP’s Bureau of Radiation Protection is in regular contact with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Environmental Protection Agency, while the Department of Health is in contact with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other states tracking Japan-related issues.

Pennsylvania residents should not take potassium iodide (KI) pills, Corbett advised. The pills are to be taken only during a specific emergency and only at the recommendation of public health officials or the governor.

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“Taking KI now is unnecessary under the circumstances and could cause harmful side effects,” said Corbett. “Although usually harmless, it can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine or shellfish, or those who have thyroid problems.”

Additionally, the elevated levels of radioactivity found in the rainwater on Friday were still well below levels that could pose any harm to pets or livestock.

“Ironically, today marks the 32nd anniversary of the accident at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant,” Corbett said. “The lessons we learned from that incident and the safeguards that were installed, including constant monitoring, have made us better prepared for situations like this.”

It was said in a statement issued Monday, March 28, by the Pennsylvania Office of the Governor.

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