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Any day now! Results of an exposure investigation in the Simpsonville - Fountain Inn area of South Carolina are pending.

Greenville County, Greenville, South Carolina

Wednesday, August 22, 2001

ATSDR conducted an exposure investigation in conjunction with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) to assess human exposure to uranium from drinking water and to better characterize radionuclide contamination in water from private wells in the Simpsonville/Fountain Inn area of Greenville County, South Carolina. Biological and environmental testing was completed in April after SCDHEC discovered that some private wells in the area showed a high concentration of uranium.

The purpose of an exposure investigation is to determine whether persons are exposed to a particular chemical or substance at a site. If individuals are found to have received exposure, there is a risk that health effects could be associated with the exposure. This is only a risk, or likelihood, that health effects will occur in the individual--not everyone exposed will have associated health effects.

The conclusions and recommendations of this investigation are based solely on the biological samples of the participants and the environmental samples from the wells tested, so the results are not intended to represent the community at large. The results were discussed with residents of the area at a public availability session held in Greenville on July 29. 

Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

For the biological sampling, urine from 105 residents was tested foruranium. The concentration of uranium in urine sample from 94 of the 105 residents (90 percent) exceeded the 90th percentile of a comparison population; i.e., a recent national survey of U.S. residents who had no unusual exposure to uranium. The participants in this investigation were provided with their test results and an explanation of their significance.

These results indicate that many of the participants had significant exposure to uranium. None of the persons tested reported any exposure to uranium through occupational exposure or other known sources, so the likely source of exposure is through consumption of uranium-contaminated water from their wells.

Uranium is potentially harmful to the kidneys because of its chemical toxicity,not because of radioactivity. However once exposure stops, the uranium stored in the body is gradually eliminated through the urine, and the effects may be reversible.

Environmental tests also were done for the presence of radon and radium. Radon 222 is a radioactive gas produced in the radioactive decay of series of uranium 228. The water from all 17 wells tested contained concentrations of radon in excess of the drinking water standard. Radium 226 was detected in all 10 wells tested, but water from only one well exceeded the drinking water standard.

Some of the recommendations made in the exposure investigation advise the tested residents to:
  • Seek an alternate water source for potable water in those homes where uranium concentration exceeds the drinking water standard, or implement treatment with adequate maintenance and monitoring.
  • Seek an alternate water source for potable (drinking) water and non-potable water in those homes where the radon concentration exceeds the drinking water standard or implement treatment with adequate maintenance and monitoring.
  • Residents with elevated urine uranium levels should consult with their personal physician to discuss whether any follow-up medical evaluation is warranted.
  • Test other potentially affected wells in the area for uranium and radon contamination.

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