Radiation is a popular word, but often thrown around for effect. The particular type of radiation of concern here is called ionizing radiation. Ionizing or charged particle radiation is different from sunlight that has commonly understood radiation such as ultraviolet and infrared radiation. The sun is often pointed at as a source of safe radiation in order to muddy the contaminated waters by those who have a selfish interest in underreporting the risks of radiation.
Whether around the world or in small town America, there seems to be an undeniable truth in that any news of detectable radioactivity discovered in drinking water will be 1) suppressed and 2) the quantity of radioactivity will be under reported when the news does go public. From Chernobyl to Fukushima, and especially to Texas, the story is the same.
The radioactive contaminants that we are concerned about in water are mostly alpha and beta particles. Alpha particles are from radioactive decay where essentially a helium 4 nuclei is released. Alpha particles are relatively large consisting of two protons and two neutrons but can only travel an inch or two in air. Paper can block alpha particles as can dry skin. Unfortunately if alpha particles are ingested or contact mucus membranes, they make a real mess of things especially cells and DNA.
Beta particles, on the other hand, are smaller than alpha particles and are either an electron or positron. The smaller mass of the beta particle allows it to travel further from the source, up to a few yards in air. Beta particles zip right through skin and a few sheets of paper, but can be blocked by thick plastic. However, the main risks from beta particles are from when they are ingested.
There are many natural sources of radiation in water, and groundwater sources are often more at risk than surface sources like reservoirs. There are also plenty of man-made sources and actions that increase the natural amounts of dangerous radiation in drinking water supplies. What makes this go from bad to worse is that the presence and quantity of radioactive materials in water are often either not measured in the first place, averaged over time or a cluster of wells, or wildly under reported through statistical and legal gymnastics. The bottom line is that the science does not lie, but the sources of the science can manipulate and withhold the facts when it suits them. And history has shown us over and over that it suits them.
Bone-seeking radioactive particles are no joke. They are cumulative and do cause cancer. There is no safe minimum consumption or exposure limit for them, and you absolutely cannot trust a government agency to monitor water systems for radioactive concentrations or even notify you if they are detected. Even worse, if you are informed that there is a problem, it is very likely a long-standing issue and what you are told is most certainly underestimated. In fact I would bet that any reported level of contaminant in a water system that is barely under the threshold of concern is a fake number. There are statistical tricks and legal parkour maneuvers that provide any necessary adjustment to avoid expensive fixes in the name of public safety.
Sound the Alarm
Since it has been demonstrated many times over time and over continents that radioactive contamination in the water supply will go unreported, under reported, and downplayed. So it is up to the drinker of water to be vigilant and take precautions when necessary. And that’s you.
While there are 10-minute tests for other water contaminants like lead, testing for radioactivity takes a special piece of equipment as well as a deeper understanding of what the results mean. In fact, the Geiger counter comes in handy to test your water filter, if you have one and know how to use it. But sadly if you do detect radiation yourself, your life just changed; both inside and out.
Most traditional water filters are limited in their capabilities to handle radiation. But some are better than others. Since water itself does not become radioactive, the radioactive particles can be filtered out similar to other contaminants. But unlike a clogged filter filled with sediments, metals, and parasites, a filter filled with radioactive particles is itself now, to put it bluntly, a component that could be in a dirty bomb.
Activated carbon can remove a common radioactive element found in water namely iodine-131. But when the load capacity of the filter is reached, you might not know it. It seems the best bet for the consumer is a combination of active charcoal and a reverse osmosis filter like the Epic Pitcher.
In the News
One would go crazy worrying about invisible radiation in water given the amount we need to consume, cook with, and let flow across our skin every day. But there are indications when worry might be more necessary. Such as when there is a nuclear event in the news. Fukushima was a big one, but provided a test not unlike when a volcano spews ash and we can see how much lands and where. Globally, radioactive fallout from Fukushima was detected everywhere one looked. And even right here under my Big Sky. In this article from The Japan Times (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/02/03/national/fukushima-radiation-level-highest-since-march-11/#.WK5XNRIrLsE) it is clear that the Fukushima situation is far from over. In fact the February 2017 article states the radiation level in reactor 2 has reached its highest radiation level since core meltdown in 2011.
So even if you have no immediate concern about radiation, you should have a plan and the supplies to act on that plan.