The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that three areas of the United States have unsafe levels of uranium in the drinking water: the Midwest, West Coast and the southern regions.
The study, which accounted for an 11-year period (2000 to 2011), detected elevated levels of uranium across the country, with researchers noting that semi-urban and Hispanic communities were most at risk of being exposed to the contaminated water.
In all, more than 38,000 market sites were reviewed for unsafe metals in the water, with "nearly two-thirds" featuring some sort of uranium contamination, according to a Daily Mail report.
Columbia University researchers first studied the EPA's national data, and then compared it with the agency's safety standards. According to the Daily Mail, levels of antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, selenium, thallium and uranium were analyzed by researchers.
Charting the Midwest, certain counties in Kansas and Nebraska had inordinately high levels of uranium in the water.
"Uranium is an under-recognized contaminant in [community water systems]," the researchers wrote.
U.S. safety standards acknowledge that small traces of chemicals are acceptable in drinking water. However, consistent exposure to the above chemicals, particularly uranium, can be a prelude to deadly and debilitating diseases.
The study did not cover the last decade's water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
The Flint debacle brought increased national attention to how certain communities might not have the resources or infrastructure to combat the perils of contaminated water.
The keys to minimizing the impact of this evergreen problem? Researchers are calling for further investment and regulation to prevent uranium exposure.
"Additional regulatory policies, compliance enforcement, and improved infrastructure are therefore necessary to reduce disparities in [community water systems] metal concentrations and protect communities served by public water systems with elevated metal concentrations," wrote Dr. Anne Nigra, an assistant professor of environmental health at Columbia, in a statement.
Nigra added: "Such interventions and policies should specifically protect the most highly exposed communities to advance environmental justice and protect public health."
The Columbia study's findings have grave implications for the health of Americans, if parts of the country don't enact tougher measures for clean water
Lung cancer, kidney damage, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease have all been tied to uranium exposure.
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