The water supply to residential homes and businesses in Bellevue is now of a much higher quality, thanks to the completion of the city’s new $2 million radium treatment facility at the corner of Park and 10th Streets.
According to radium treatment facility operator Brett Roling, who is in charge of water at Bellevue Municipal Utilities, the new report on radium levels came in last week, and the results are nearly perfect with less than one picocuries of radium present per liter, nearly undetectable.
Previous quarterly water tests revealed that radium levels in Bellevue were averaging anywhere from 5.7 pCi/L (picocuries) to 6.0 pCi/L consistently in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources considers more than 5 pCi/L of radium in drinking water to be dangerous.
“We were anxiously awaiting the quarterly radium testing results in anticipation that our new radium treatment facility would take care the radium issue at hand,” said Bellevue City Clerk Abbey Skrivseth. “We are thoroughly excited and pleased with the results showing that the radium came back undetectable.”
She added that the process did not change the water’s appearance or taste so citizens should not have noticed any changes.
“As a city service, our citizens and customers are our main priority. We took this matter very seriously and we felt fortunate to receive a 75 percent forgivable State Revolving Fund Loan, which essentially acts like a grant,” added Skrivseth, who said the utility board plans to host an open house this fall to give citizens a chance to see inside the new building and learn more about the process.
For over three consecutive years, the average level of radium in Bellevue tap water had exceeded established standards by state authorities. Elevated levels of radium, a radioactive substance known to raise cancer risks, had been showing up on the local drinking water off and on for decades, but seemed to become worse over the past few years.
Now the problem is apparently solved.
While not an emergency, state laws required that the problem had to be mitigated. Bellevue Municipal Utilities went to work with IIW Engineers to solve the problem.
Thanks to a 75 percent forgiveable loan from the Iowa Revolving Loan Fund to construct the $2 million radium treatment facility, and an increase in water rates to make up the remaining $500,000 in costs, the plant is 100 percent financed.
The project started last year near the corner of Park and 10th Streets, with Jim Schroeder Construction as the general contractor.
Bellevue utility officials said the new radium treatment facility is a filtration system, which is about the size of a house and two-car garage.
Inside is an “Aeralater Iron and Manganese Treatment Unit,” which combines aeration, detention and filtration in one unit.
Utility officials note that the local water supply comes from two main wells. One is located at Cole Park, and the other on 12th Street next to the Emergency Medical Services building. Both are little brick buildings that house the well workings inside.
The location of the radium treatment facility at Park and 10th Streets would be halfway between these two water sources.
The Bellevue wells go down to the Cambrian-Ordovician (Jordan) aquifer which occasionally sees changes levels of Radium. Tests are completed quarterly and sent to the DNR.
The tests for the four quarters in Bellevue starting in 2015 showed levels as high as 7.6 “picocuries” per liter, which is above the standard 5 PCI per liter threshold set by the DNR.
The average of the four quarters, however, was 5.7, still above the required amount, which is considered a “non-acute violation.”
Radium is a naturally occurring radioactive element that is present in varying amounts in rocks and soil within the earth’s crust. Small amounts of radium also can be found in groundwater supplies. Radium can be present in several forms, called isotopes. The most common isotopes Iowa groundwater are Ra-226 and Ra-228, which are present here in Bellevue.
Surface water is usually low in radium but groundwater can contain high levels of radium depending on local geology. Deep bedrock aquifers used for drinking water sometimes contain levels of Ra-226 and Ra-228 that exceed health-based regulatory standards.
Radium in water may pose a hazard to human health when the water is used for drinking or cooking. Only a small portion of ingested radium is absorbed from the digestive tract and distributed throughout the body. The rest is passed unchanged from the body. Some absorbed radium is excreted in urine.
Absorbed radium behaves similarly to calcium and is deposited in the tissues of the body, especially bone. Any radiation received externally through showering, washing, or other uses is not a hazard since alpha particles do not travel through skin.
Thousands of people in this area draw water from the same source, as the Cambrian-Ordovician aquifer, covers a chunk of the Midwest including all of Iowa except for a sliver of the state’s northwest corner.