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Much of the NJ,NY, PA Appalachian range has radioactive mineral ore. Some of it collects from Radium deposits forming Radon gas. Uranium is also present and a recent cause of the closing of a number of municipal water wells in northern New Jersey. If you live in an area known for radioactive ore or minerals ask about our radiation surveys.

Sparta, NJ: Uranium in the Water

News Reporter - ROD ALLEE / Bergen County Record (New Jersey) March 24, 2004

Wells in Sparta serving 600 customers are the state's first casualties of a new safety standard for uranium contamination in drinking water. And more wells in the Highlands of North Jersey may be at risk from natural deposits of the radioactive ore.

Uranium testing is now mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water provided by utilities serving 25 or more customers.

The EPA's standards for radioactive material in drinking water became effective Dec. 8, but testing will not conclude throughout the state until Dec. 31, 2007. Besides uranium, the standards cover radionuclides radium 226 and 228 and alpha, beta, and photon emitters.

Pockets of uranium are found in the rock base of the geological feature known as the Reading Prong, which undergirds much of North Jersey's Highlands.

Health officials in the southeastern Sussex County community of Sparta aggressively conducted |tests; their alarming results prompted the township to close two municipal wells and provide alternative water sources for residential and business customers. But the new standards are not commonly known yet, even to those who are responsible for water quality.

Mahwah and Wanaque, for instance, are Highlands towns that rely on well water, and officials were not aware of the standards.

In Wanaque, Mike Cristaldi of the town's engineering firm said, "We haven't been informed, that I know of."

This was echoed by Stanley Spiech, director of the Department of Public Works in Mahwah: "We haven't received anything on them yet. When we receive the information, we'll do the testing."

An EPA spokesman did not know if Sparta's wells were the first in the nation to exceed the uranium contamination standards in tests, but a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman said Sparta was definitely first in New Jersey.

Sparta Township Manager Henry Underhill said previous testing had indicated that radon, a byproduct of uranium, was in the water of some of his town's wells. For that reason, Underhill added, Sparta took official samples on Dec. 22, just two weeks after the federal standards went into effect. The samples were sent to the state's DEP lab, which confirmed Sparta's fears this month.

The seven wells serve about 600 homes and businesses, a few of which are in neighboring Byram. The new federal standard is 30 parts per billion of uranium. Autumn Hill's two wells had 122 parts per billion, Panorama's well had 72, Greentree's three wells had 51, and Seneca's well had 33.

Sparta immediately closed the Autumn Hill and Panorama wells. The town shifted water from other wells to the Autumn Hill and Panorama users, but advised all 600 users not to drink or cook with tap water. It stationed a tanker at the Stanhope Fire House to dispense water for drinking and cooking. Sparta is looking at switching the source of water for those users permanently.

The EPA says uranium is known to raise the risk of cancer and damage the kidneys. The EPA said it expects the incidence of cancer to be lowered in coming years because of its new standard.

State environmental official Barker Hamill said the new uranium standard of 30 parts per billion is conservative, based on drinking two liters of water each day for 70 years - at which point, the risk of cancer from having ingested uranium directly would be considered increased by a factor of 1 in 10,000.

The newly discovered problem has raised anxiety among consumers.

Donna Wagenblast lives with her husband and two sons in Byram and receives tap water from the Autumn Hill wells. When she was notified of the danger, she immediately bought bottled water, but since has been going three times a week to the Stanhope Fire House to fill her plastic jugs.

"This is worrisome, yes," Wagenblast said. "I try not to think about it, but everybody is talking about it, everywhere you go. Those with young children, babies, those who are pregnant, they're worried a lot."

Wagenblast said her family still uses tap water for washing, bathing, and laundry, but for cooking and drinking, bottled water is used. She plans to attend a meeting tonight at 6:30 at the Helen Morgan School on Stanhope Road.

Hamill, chief of the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), was effusive in his praise for Sparta authorities. He called them "proactive, forthright, and progressive" in ordering the tests quickly and taking action as soon as the results were reported.

The Reading Prong geological feature in North Jersey produces radon, a radioactive gas. Radon seeps into basements and occasionally bubbles into underground aquifers. As Hamill pointed out, "Radon is a decay product of uranium, so look at the map. Where radon levels are high," it is likely that a pocket of uranium is nearby.

"Uranium is part of the formation of the Reading Prong," agreed John Cianciulli, curator of the Franklin Mineral Museum and long-time student of North Jersey's mineral formations.

"Uranium, in my experience, often accompanies iron. ... And there was a series of iron mines around here. In fact the legend is that you could walk underground from Andover to Newfoundland because of these mines. The northern Highlands had mine shafts, test shafts, and quarries all over."

Cianciulli keeps a Geiger counter and noted that just waving it around some of the Highland hills produces a beeping. However, he cautioned that he has seen no long-term health studies indicating that Highlands residents have suffered from the proximity.

Sounding a bit skeptical, Cianciulli added: "I can't believe that in 2004, we suddenly have a problem. Somebody is going to be making a lot of money testing, remediating, filtering ..."

The EPA's safe-drinking-water rules now mandate testing for more than 90 substances, some naturally occurring and others man-made toxics.

Although the EPA standards are only mandatory for well systems serving more than 25 people, the DEP is considering extending the EPA standard to private wells. This would mean that tests for radionuclides would have to be completed before a home with a private well could be sold.

Charles Ryan, Sparta township engineer, noted that the newest round of EPA-mandated testing is expensive. He said one sample from each well must be run through four tests, and this costs $1,100. The EPA requires a minimum of four tests the first year.

The EPA has estimated that water bills for consumers now receiving drinking water contaminated with radionuclides will rise from $30 to $100 each year in order to mitigate the problem, either through treating the water or finding a safer source.

source: 25mar04