Uranium is an element that naturally occurs in rocks, soil and water. When refined, it is a shiny gray, weakly radioactive metal.
Uranium is 65 percent more dense than lead.
People started using uranium in the 1st century to add color to ceramic glazes.
The German chemist Martin Klaproth is credited with its discovery in 1789.
In 1841, Eugene-Melchior Peligot became the first person to isolate uranium as a metal.
Through his work with uranium metals, French physicist Henri Becquerel discovered the process of radioactivity.
The military uses uranium to power ships and submarines and for nuclear weapons.
Uranium is also used to fuel nuclear power plants.
Higher concentrations of uranium can be found in phosphate rock deposits and minerals such as uraninite.
It can be dispersed in the environment through natural processes like rain, wind and erosion. Rocks containing uranium can be broken down into dust and then carried by rain or wind into streams and lakes.
Uranium can leach into groundwater from mineral deposits.
Many phosphate fertilizers have high concentrations of uranium.
Uranium can enter a person’s body when it is inhaled or ingested and will not absorb through the skin.
About 99 percent of the uranium a person ingests through food or water will leave their system in feces.
Exposure to uranium can lead to increased risk of kidney disease, bone cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer and blood diseases like leukemia.
Under the Clean Air Act, the maximum dose an individual can be exposed to is 10 millirem of uranium.
The Safe Drinking Water Act stipulates that the Maximum Contaminant Level for uranium is 30 micrograms per liter of drinking water.
If uranium in drinking water exceeds 20 ppb, a water treatment system should be considered.
Point-of-use reverse-osmosis units have been proven to reduce uranium levels.
Distillation and anion exchange are also effective methods of reducing uranium.
Sources: Water Technology magazine and the US Environmental Protection Agency, the New Mexico Environment Department and the New Mexico Department of Health.