Scientists offer advice on uranium for Glastonbury homeowners

Jan. 13—GLASTONBURY — Volunteer scientists who have been looking at the problem of uranium pollution in private drinking water wells for the last two years presented their results to the public via teleconference Wednesday and pointed out some ways those results can help homeowners.

One recommendation from the scientists was that homeowners should have their wells tested more than once, preferably in the spring and the fall. The reason, Duke University environmental scientist Rachel Coyte said, is that study of local test results indicates that uranium levels may vary significantly with the level of the water table.

She said that the water table tends to be highest in the spring and lowest in the fall, making those good times to test.

But limited information available so far indicates that uranium levels can vary in either direction between such tests. One local well showed much higher uranium concentrations when the water table was higher while another showed a jump in uranium when the water table was lower, according to the study team's report.

A Washington-based organization called the Thriving Earth Exchange, which is associated with the American Geophysical Union and promotes "community science," recruited the scientists to work with Glastonbury on the uranium problem.

In addition to Coyte, the scientists are Assistant Professor Hari Kandel of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at Lake Superior State University in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, who looked at Glastonbury's geology, and Assistant Professor Caitlyn Hall of the University of Arizona, who coordinated the work.

One point emphasized by Hall is that the uranium in Glastonbury is naturally occurring.

"It's no one's fault," she said.

Coyte said uranium pollution can result from surface activities such as mining but added that such activities are unlikely to be a driver of the problem in Glastonbury because there is no obvious source and because the pollution is spread over a wide area.

As to whether homeowners should have their well water tested, Hall's answer was a strong yes. This is so even if a next-door neighbor's test has shown no pollution problem because Glastonbury test results have shown uranium levels to vary widely in a small area.

Coyte's explanation of this phenomenon is the complex patterns of fractures in the rock under Glastonbury.

"Wells drilled close to each other may be getting water from different fracture networks," she said.

One of the most effective solutions to well pollution is the installation of public water lines, served by utilities that regularly test and treat their water.

But the variation in pollution levels between neighboring properties has created an obstacle to this approach, as people with clean well water have resisted paying water assessments that can range from $10,000 to $30,000.

Federal standards indicate that water is unsafe to drink if it contains more than 30 micrograms of uranium per liter and unsafe for washing if it contains more than 900 micrograms per liter.

Coyte said those limits are based on the effects of uranium on the kidneys. But the study team's report discusses studies indicating that uranium also may affect bones, the reproductive system, and, based on animal studies, the liver, and brain.

Coyte said determining health effects is difficult because it is unethical to do controlled studies on humans.

Hall strongly urged residents to report the results of uranium testing of their well water to the town, which will keep individual information confidential but can use the aggregate information to advocate for residents on such issues as funding for public water.

For updates on Glastonbury, and recent crime and courts coverage in North-Central Connecticut, follow Alex Wood on Twitter: @AlexWoodJI1, Facebook: Alex Wood, and Instagram: @AlexWoodJI.