A new report from the University of Columbia Mailman School of Public Health revealed that high levels of uranium were detectable in two thirds of community water systems. Many in Brown neighborhoods.

“We’re interested in understanding the health consequences of these chronic low-level exposures from our public drinking water systems across the U.S.,” said Annie Nigra, a postdoctoral research fellow with Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “We want to know, first of all, are there major inequities or inequalities in public drinking water exposures across different types of populations? And two: are those exposures really associated with, you know, adverse health outcomes?

“In order to do that the first thing, what we have to do is create this nationwide database of estimating drinking water exposures across the U.S. and then we can start looking at inequities and exposure and whether these exposures are associated with disease,” continued Nigra.

The report was co-authored by Filippo Ravalli, Kathrin Schilling, Yuanzhi Yu, and Ana Navas-Acien, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health; Benjamin Bostick and Steven Chillru, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University; and Anirban Basu, University of London.

According to the report, “Approximately 90% of U.S. residents rely on public drinking water systems, with most residents relying specifically on community water systems that serve the same population year-round. The researchers evaluated six-year EPA review records for antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, selenium, thallium, and uranium to determine if average concentrations exceeded the maximum contaminant levels set by the EPA which regulates levels for six classes of contaminants. This included approximately 13 million records from 139,000 public water systems serving 290 million people annually.”

This isn’t the first rodeo that Brown and Black people have had with what is now known as “environmental racism.”

“Our research group tends to focus on chronic disease like cardiovascular disease. For many of these metals, we know for example, arsenic, uranium, we know that they can be toxic to the cardiovascular and kidney systems.”

Similar issues played a significant role in Black and Brown Americans and Indigenous people having a higher number of COVID deaths.

APM Research Lab, a nonpartisan research group, reported recently that 399 Black have died per 1,000 of COVID and Hispanics died at a 259 per 1,000 rate.

So while the report focused on Hispanics. This group of Americans tended to live in neighborhoods not too far from or within Black neighborhoods.

According to the report, “2.1 percent of community water systems reported average uranium concentrations from 2000 to 2011 in exceedance of the EPA maximum contamination levels, and uranium was frequently detected during compliance monitoring (63% of the time).”

“One of the ways that we tried to look at this potential disparity is by using these previous categorizations of counties and one of those groups is a semi urban, Hispanic group,” said Nigra. “And we found that regardless of whether a water system uses groundwater or surface water, regardless of the state the system is located in and regardless of the size of the system, semi-urban Hispanic counties had higher concentrations of uranium and other bottles compared to all other types of water systems.

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  1. Uranium from the environment enters the human body by ingestion with food and drink and by inhalation of respirable airborne uranium-containing dust particles or aerosols. Daily intake of uranium in food and water varies from approximately 1 to approximately 5 micrograms U/d daily in uncontaminated regions to 13-18 micrograms/d or more in uranium mining areas. A 70 kg, non-occupationally exposed ‘Reference Man’ living in Europe or in the United States has an estimated total body uranium content of about 22 micrograms. Uranium is absorbed from the intestine or the lungs, enters the bloodstream, and is rapidly deposited in the tissues, predominantly kidney and bone, or excreted in the urine. In the bloodstream, uranium is associated with red cells, and its clearance is relatively rapid. Renal toxicity is a major adverse effect of uranium, but the metal has toxic effects on the cardiovascular system, liver, muscle, and nervous system as well. Any possible direct risk of cancer or other chemical- or radiation-induced health detriments from uranium deposited in the human body is probably less than 0.005% in contrast to an expected indirect risk of 0.2% to 3% through inhaling the radioactive inert gas radon, which is produced by the decay of environmental uranium-238 in rocks and soil and is present in materials that are used to build dwellings and buildings where people live and work.

  2. Animal studies indicate that absorbed uranium moves into the blood, where it is distributed first through soft tissues. Nearly 70% of the uranium absorbed in blood is filtered through the kidneys and cleared within 24 hours in urine. The remaining portion of uranium is distributed to other organs.

  3. Uranium that is absorbed is deposited throughout the body; the highest levels are found in the bones, liver, and kidneys. Sixty-six percent of the uranium in the body is found in your bones. It can remain in the bones for a long time; the half-life of uranium in bones is 70–200 days (this is the amount of time that it takes for half of the uranium to leave the bones). Most of the uranium that is not in bones leaves the body in 1–2 weeks.

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