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Radium, The Energy Drink


During the months of COVID lockdown in California like many of you picked up some new hobbies, one of which is reading.  In fact, I just finished a book that discussed the effects radium had on young girls working at various watch dial companies in the 1900s.  It had me thinking what would happen if we unknowingly consumed water tainted with the radioactive element.  Radium is created when uranium and thorium experience radioactive decay in the environment.  Radium can enter groundwater through various sources, including dissolution of aquifer materials, absorption by rocks or plants, emission from minerals during radioactive decay.  The element can also accumulate in various forms of marine life.  Radium would only be soluble in water under various geochemical conditions; even then it is only moderately soluble. 

Companies that manufacture hydrogen water, alkaline water, and energy drinks have made bold claims regarding the products’ benefits.  This fad of enhancing the health benefits of H2O was common even in the early 1900s.  While energy drinks nowadays contain some sort of neurological stimulant or simply sugar, people in the 1920s and 1930s consumed energy drinks that contained radium.  The downsides of radium have been studied since its discovery in 1898, yet radium products were hailed as the almighty in the 20th century.  Radithor, an energy drink sold in the 1920s, claimed that it not only boosted your energy, but could also cure various ailments.  As a single grain of radium cost $5,000 back then, a bottle of Radithor was priced at $1 which meant only the wealthy could afford it.  In fact, one of Radithor’s famous customers, Eben Byers, had raved about the energy drink for years.  While initially consuming the product to heal his broken arm, the Pittsburgh industrialist continued to ingest bottles of it over the next three years.  He eventually passed away after suffering various bone-related ailments.  As more and more people suffered from radium poisoning, Radithor was eventually taken off the shelves in 1932. 

An investigation conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed that 170 million Americans have been consuming water tainted with radium.  From 2010 to 2015, 158 public water systems catering to 276 000 Americans had radium levels that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit of 5 picocuries per liter.  Scientists deduced that if we continued to consume water tainted with such high levels of radium, it would lead to 7 cancer cases per 100,000 people.  In 2006, scientists at the California Office of Environmental Health Assessment suggested that the federal limit should be 60 to 70 times lower with suggested limits of radium 226 at 0.05 picocuries per liter while radium 228 should be set at 0.019 picocuries.  The EWG created a site map that details the water utilities where radium has been detected. 

Radium is a carcinogen typically found in well water, and it can be removed by the Kinetico K5 Drinking Water Station.  As this top-of-the-line reverse osmosis drinking water system can remove 99.999% of contaminants in your water, you and your family can now enjoy up to 40 gallons of the best-tasting, highest-quality drinking water available.  This system is customizable to your water treatment needs,  so you can purchase auxiliary filters that remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs), bacteria, and arsenic.  If you would like to learn more about our Kinetico products, sign up for a FREE onsite water consultation or reach us at 408 371 5521! 

Sources cited: 

Delaware Health and Social Services, Radium 226 and 228, 2015, https://dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/files/radiumfaq.pdf

Joel Abrams, “When ‘energy’ drinks actually contained radioactive energy,” The Conversation, 2016, https://theconversation.com/when-energy-drinks-actually-contained-radioactive-energy-67976 

Rachael Rettner, “Is There Radium In Your Tap Water? New Map Can Show You,” LiveScience, 2018, https://www.livescience.com/61397-tap-water-radium.html

Zoltan Szabo and Vincent T. dePaul, Radium-226 and radium-228 in shallow ground water, southern New Jersey, USGS, 1998, https://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/1998/0062/report.pdf