You are here: HomeNewsLocal News ReleasesEnvironment Department Clarifies Differences Between Uranium Isotopes

Environment Department Clarifies Differences Between Uranium Isotopes

UraniumUranium in Santa Fe-Española Area Well Water is Naturally Occurring
(Santa Fe, NM) – Geologists have known for decades that the sandstones near Santa Fe and Española contain uranium. The yellow and brown mineral coatings on sand grains will kick a Geiger counter but are not rich enough to be mined at the present time. Most water wells in the area contain detectable uranium.  More than 200 private and public wells contain uranium in excess of the drinking water health standard of 30 parts-per-billion (ppb), and some wells contain hundreds of ppb. The primary health concern of uranium in drinking water is kidney toxicity.
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) sits west of the Santa Fe-Española area, west of the Rio Grande. A New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) investigation in 1995 concluded that the uranium in rocks and groundwater east of the Rio Grande, in the Santa Fe-Española area, was naturally occurring and did not come from LANL. These findings have been confirmed by a second study by NMED, LANL, and three water-quality businesses in Santa Fe.
One way to distinguish between natural and manmade uranium (U) is by testing for its different isotopes. U-234, U-235 and U-238 are naturally occurring isotopes. U-236 is a manmade isotope that does not occur in nature. The ratios of natural isotopes, and the presence or absence of U-236, can be used to fingerprint sources of uranium.
NMED sampled 52 wells located east of the Rio Grande in 1995, and detected uranium concentrations up to 920 ppb. The well waters contained U-234 to U-238 ratios that were consistent with natural geologic uranium.
NMED, LANL, Good Water Company, Environmental Geochemistry LLC, and Indepth Water Testing recently completed a more detailed isotope study that was funded in part by the New Mexico Small Business Assistance Program. Thirteen water wells, from Santa Fe north into Española, were sampled and analyzed by the New Mexico Scientific Laboratory Division and by two different labs at LANL. There was close agreement on test results between the three labs. Uranium concentrations ranged from 9 ppb to 776 ppb. Ratios of U-234 to U-238 were similar to the naturally occurring ratios detected in the 1995 NMED study. Ratios of U-235 to U-238 also were consistent with natural geologic sources. Manmade U-236 was not detected in any sample.
By contrast, shallow groundwater impacted by historical LANL waste discharges contains maximum uranium concentrations of less than 10 ppb, sometimes with an enriched ratio of U-235 to U-238 and detectable U-236.
“Given the abundance of uranium in sandstones and granites in this region, it comes as no surprise that the uranium in groundwater is natural,” said NMED Secretary Dave Martin. “But natural uranium at high levels in drinking water can pose a health risk.”
The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Mineral Technology has mapped more than 87 areas in New Mexico where the rocks contain uranium deposits http://geoinfo.nmt.edu/staff/mclemore/documents/07-111_18.pdf. “We know that some well waters in Dona Ana County, Grants-Gallup, Santa Fe-Española, and Tucumcari-San Jon contain uranium,” Martin said. “If you live in one of these areas, and use a private domestic well, we recommend that you test your water for uranium.”
NMED does not have the laboratory resources to test well water for uranium on demand. But you can arrange for your own testing, through a local laboratory or water purification company, to determine if your water contains high uranium and, if so, what treatment options are available.  Laboratories certified by NMED to perform drinking water testing are listed at this location http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/dwb/sampling/CertifiedLabs.htm.
If your drinking water is supplied by a public water system, your water has already been tested, and you can find out what the uranium concentration is from the NMED Drinking Water Watch website https://eidea.nmenv.state.nm.us/DWW/.
The N.M. Department of Health and NMED have published a Fact Sheet on uranium and human health.  http://nmhealth.org/eheb/documents/Uranium_Fact_Sheet_DOH_ED_03.22.pdf

Join GCB Three Times Weekly Updates

Welcome to Three Times Weekly Updates! You will be subscribed to email notifications with links to recently posted articles.
You can unsubscribe anytime. We never share or rent your email to anyone.

Fire Alerts

Editor's Note

Twice lately, someone has used one of MY photos, TAKEN by ME, without attribution or payment to me or the Beat. Remember that ALL PHOTOS ON THE SITE ARE COPYRIGHTED BY THE PHOTOGRAPHER. All content is also automatically copyrighted to the creator, when it is posted. 

For all you non-profits out there who hold regular fundraisers and want to thank your supporters, the Beat has a new flat rate of $20 plus GRT for Thank You Ads, which are posted under Community. Thanks for supporting the Beat.

The Beat is very pleased and excited to announce that it has an intern, Alexis Rico, who is studying journalism at New Mexico State University. Please welcome her. We will be experimenting together on some new ways to provide the news to you. We look forward to your comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Thanks for being a Beat reader!

The Beat thanks all of you who have become friends of the Beat by sponsoring pages.

We have added a new category under Sponsors on the menu—Local businesses. You and your business can benefit from the exposure by contacting the Beat at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Someone will contact you for an interview and to take photos. The cost for the sponsorship is $100, and you can continue the relationship by advertising your business for a longer term. The longer the term, the better the discount you receive.

The Beat is now posting legal notices for area governmental agencies. Check under the menu item Community to find Legals for what's happening in the area in the way of meetings and other legal notices.

You may have noticed a blue button on the upper left side of most pages. It says Sponsor GCBTo help defray ever-increasing costs of the Beat and to prevent the requirement for paid subscriptions, the Beat is asking you to choose an amount you want to pay on a one-time or regular basis to SPONSOR a page or feature that you rely on. 

If you subscribe to the Join GCB Three Times Weekly Updates option on the left side of this page, you will be subscribed to email notifications with links to recently posted articles.

Comics are now available. As the editor, I chose my favorites first--B.C. and Wizard of Id. The Beat is seeking sponsors for these comics and for your favorites, too. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  for rates. 

Check Out Classifieds.

It's really easy to check to see if there's a classified ad. Just click on Classifieds in the blue menu and the page will open letting you know if there is a classified ad. Remember that your buying classified ads gives you a wide readership, as well as supporting the Beat.

Post YOURS for quick results!

Consider the Beat your DAILY newspaper for up-to-date information about Grant County. It's at your fingertips! One Click to Local News.

Thanks for your support for and your readership of Grant County's online news source—www.grantcountybeat.com.

Go to top