Getting radium under control


RESIDENTS who live in areas where county and state officials have found disturbing levels of radium don't have to feel like they are under siege. They can easily gain control over the radioactive threat.

The Anne Arundel County Health Department has mailed letters to 20,000 households in northern Anne Arundel where radium has been found. The mailings advise residents to let officials test their private wells for the contaminant. The tests cost residents $64.

Surprisingly, only 5 percent of residents have responded. Health officials don't know why the response was so scanty. There is evidence that some residents have already remedied the problem. But if health officials determine that many other vulnerable residents are forgoing the test because of the $64 price tag, the county should strongly consider waiving the fee. People need to know.

After the tests, residents can take the appropriate action.

If elevated radium levels are discovered, people should install water treatment systems, which cost about $1,500. Treatment systems have been extremely effective at eliminating even some of the most contaminated wells.

Homeowners can get financial help for water treatment systems, too. A state program created to bring indoor plumbing to rural families can provide low-interest loans for purification systems to remove radium. The county must make sure this information reaches people who need it.

The radium levels found in county wells don't pose significant risks. But constant, long-term consumption of radium-contaminated water can cause bone cancer.

Although Anne Arundel's rate of bone cancer isn't out of line with rates around the country, it could be if the county and homeowners don't get a handle on things.

Residents must take matters into their hands to get rid of the risks -- and their fears.

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