What is Beryllium and how do I know if it’s in my drinking water?
Beryllium is a metallic element that can dissolve into water. It occurs naturally in New Hampshire’s bedrock and as a result, can be found in water drawn from bedrock wells. Beryllium has no taste, color or odor, so the only way to determine if it is in your drinking water is to test it in a laboratory. Beryllium was added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of contaminants in 1994 under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Therefore the information about its presence and effects in New Hampshire are limited.
What are beryllium’s health effects?
When beryllium combines with other elements to form compounds, these substances have been associated with damage to the bones and lungs. It has also caused cancer in laboratory animals, such as rats and mice when those animals are exposed to high levels over their lifetime. When it comes to humans, there is little evidence that beryllium poses a cancer risk from drinking water.
What is the EPA limit for beryllium in drinking water?
The EPA sets guidelines on contaminants that are safe to drink and limits on those that pose health risks. Because studies on the effects of beryllium on humans have provided minimal evidence, the EPA ‘s contamination limits – known as the maximum contaminant level – are low, but provide an extra uncertainty factor to account for possible increased risk of cancer.
Where is beryllium found?
Samples of drinking water taken across the state have found beryllium in well water in the Mt. Washington Valley and along the west portion of the Kancamangus Highway. The levels of beryllium in most cases were very low, and less than 1 percent of bedrock wells tested showed an amount of beryllium above the EPA’s maximum contaminant level limits. Beryllium is also found in mineral deposits in the Acworth and Alstead area, Lake Pautuckaway and in parts of the state that have “two-mica granite” or Conway granite.
In dug wells, which take water closer to the surface of the earth, beryllium concentrations are low and likely fall within EPA limits.
Ways to address beryllium in your water
If your home water well has levels of beryllium that exceed the EPA limit, there are some ways you can solve the problem, but most people opt for water treatment. A homeowner only needs to treat the water used for drinking and cooking, which in the average home is only about four gallons per day. A point-of-use filtration system, such as an under the sink filter, will likely suffice.
Here are a few water treatment options that will address the problem:
Reverse osmosis: In a reverse osmosis filtration system, water flows through a membrane, filtering out some of the molecules within the water, including beryllium. These molecules, plus some water, are flushed into your home’s wastewater system. The treated water is stored in a small storage tank until needed. Solids in the water can sometimes clog the membrane, so a sediment prefilter should also be installed.
Water softener: A water softener uses an “ion exchange” system to filter out contaminant molecules from the drinking water. These systems filter the whole house’s water as it comes into the home and is commonly used to treat hard water. Water softeners are not proven to thoroughly remove beryllium, but could help if the concentration level is high.
Activated alumina: In this process, well water passes through an activated filter, typically a fiberglass canister. The beryllium sticks to the alumina, as well as other contaminants, such as arsenic and uranium, and are discarded with the used filter. Activated alumina can be used with both point-of-use and whole house treatment systems. If you need to treat a large amount of water, such as for business use, activated alumina may be more cost effective.