Uranium in Drinking Water: Renal Effects of Long-Term Ingestion by an Aboriginal Community

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Abstract

The authors conducted a study of an aboriginal community to determine if kidney function had been affected by the chronic ingestion of uranium in drinking water from the community's drilled wells. Uranium concentrations in drinking water varied from < 1 to 845 ppb. This noninvasive study relied on the measurement of a combination of urinary indicators of kidney function and markers for cell toxicity. In all, 54 individuals (12–73 years old) participated in the study. Correlation of uranium excreted in urine with bio-indicators at p ≤.05 indicated interference with the kidney's reabsorptive function. Because of the community's concerns regarding cancer incidence, the authors also calculated cumulative radiation doses using uranium intake in drinking water over the preceding 15-year period. The highest total uranium intake over this period was 1,761 mg. The risk of cancer from the highest dose, 2.1 mSv, is 13 in 100,000, which would be difficult to detect in the community studied (population size = 1,480). This study indicates that at the observed levels of uranium intake, chemical toxicity would be a greater health concern than would radiation dose.

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