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Author Topic: Can you taste radioactivity in water?  (Read 3502 times)

Offline thedoc

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Can you taste radioactivity in water?
« on: 24/09/2012 02:30:01 »
speedsexy69 asked the Naked Scientists:
   
1) Can you taste a difference in radiated water in your local water supply? Will there be immediate results and side-effects? -- facial flushing, rising in body temperature -- or would there have to be a high-supply of radioactive element?

2) Oh, and where can I buy a Geiger counter?

I know this is a complicated question (due to the number of radioactive elements, the possibilities of dirty bombs, and the like) but with the recent issues with nuclear accidents within the last 50-100 years -- surely there is some data on what would happen to the human body short-term.

What do you think?
« Last Edit: 24/09/2012 02:30:01 by _system »


 

Offline RD

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Re: Can you taste radioactivity in water?
« Reply #1 on: 24/09/2012 03:57:35 »
... Can you taste a difference in radiated water...

irradiated food / water may be safe to consume  ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_irradiation

food / water contaminated by radioactive material is another matter ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_contamination
« Last Edit: 24/09/2012 04:03:06 by RD »
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can you taste radioactivity in water?
« Reply #2 on: 24/09/2012 05:21:51 »
There are different types of radiation.

Gamma radiation is high energy photons, somewhat like super-strong X-rays.  It can pass through many different materials.
Beta radiation is are high energy electrons.  It generally can not penetrate deep into any materials.
Neutron radiation is high energy neutrons (generally from nuclear reactors).
Alpha radiation is high energy helium nuclei.  It generally can not penetrate deep into any materials.
You also have radioactive elements, ions, compounds such as uranium or plutonium that decay with the above alpha/beta/gamma radiation.

Since alpha and beta radiation don't pass through barriers, and don't pass very deep into materials such as water, I find it unlikely your municipality would be using alpha/beta radiation.  The only way to effectively utilize it might be to make thorium pipes, or a thorium sieve.  However, the risk of erosion would be far too great, so I find this extremely unlikely. 

They will not be introducing radioactive materials to your water.

A strong gamma irradiation could break chemical bonds in DNA within the treatment facility (i.e. killing bacteria and microbes), but it will not make your water radioactive.

Keep in mind that a Geiger counter won't pick up all types of radiation.  For example, Hydrogen-3 (tritium) decays with such a low energy beta particle that it will not be picked up by a Geiger counter, or any hand-held radiation monitors.  So, if your water somehow had tritium introduced, you would need a much more expensive piece of equipment to detect it.

However, everything must have a source, and your city won't be running a cold-fusion reactor.

 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can you taste radioactivity in water?
« Reply #3 on: 24/09/2012 05:46:52 »
It is unlikely you will taste any difference between the irradiated water and the non-irradiated water. 

Is the community reducing the amount of chlorine being put into the water?  That might in fact be a good thing.

Keep in mind that we live in harmony with many micro-organisms.  There have been reports that there are more bacteria cells living on, and inside of your body than human cells, which may in fact be true.  There are relatively few dangerous pathogens that could contaminate the water supply such as cholera or guardia, most are fecal-oral transmitted, but may have both human, or animal carriers.  E-Coli can be bothersome, especially for non-local residents, but even most forms of e-coli is generally non-lethal and self-limiting.

Anyway, personally I'd be all for any non-chemical methods to reduce the risk of waterborne outbreaks such as cholera. 

I did taste some Egyptian water.  It tastes just fine, but one notices the after-effects a few hours later.  I'm happy that we generally have pathogen-free water supplies in the USA and most of Europe.
 

Offline RD

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Re: Can you taste radioactivity in water?
« Reply #4 on: 24/09/2012 07:41:23 »
... surely there is some data on what would happen to the human body short-term.

Radioactive water was a quack therapy in the 1930s ...
t=5m14s
« Last Edit: 24/09/2012 07:49:21 by RD »
 

Offline techmind

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Re: Can you taste radioactivity in water?
« Reply #5 on: 25/09/2012 00:00:02 »
Quote
1) Can you taste a difference in radiated water in your local water supply? Will there be immediate results and side-effects? -- facial flushing, rising in body temperature -- or would there have to be a high-supply of radioactive element?

You would not expect to taste a difference in water which has been irradiated (that is, exposed to radiation to kill microorganisms), nor in general would you taste anything if the water was contaminated with radioactive material (and therefore was itself radioactive).

Where you might taste a difference is if something else has been changed in the water processing at the same time as the irradiation-process was introduced (such as a reduction in the amount of chlorine being added.)

In principle, a Geiger counter could tell if the water was contaminated with radioactive material (which would be very unlikely, but very serious if found to be the case), but could not tell if the water had been irradiated (treated by exposure to radioactivity).

You would not expect any short term (eg 48-hour) symptoms from consuming radioactive water unless the radiation levels were extremely high, levels which would be almost inconceivable in a municipal water system, without very large-scale deliberate sabotage. Low levels of contamination might be expected to increase various cancer risks over years and decades.

You can probably buy a basic Geiger counter (in kit-form or assembled) from electronics hobbyist shops. Alternatively you could buy one ready-to-go from a schools/educational supplier. You should take guidance from someone with experience and knowledge of radioactivity to avoid scareing yourself over normal, harmless, background radiation though (and to know the limitations of what you can expect to detect).

(my edits don't appear to be sticking)
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: Can you taste radioactivity in water?
« Reply #6 on: 26/09/2012 12:21:38 »
Low levels of radiation are normal in houses, depending on the local rocks, the rocks through which your local water supply flows, and cosmic rays which are not entirely absorbed in the atmosphere.
Some devices like smoke detectors produce low levels of radiation, but are quite safe if not broken open (and not dumped into landfill).
You should only look for an unusual excess of radiation, well above the normal background levels.
If you are that worried about possible contamination, buy a water filter, and a stock of bottled water.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Can you taste radioactivity in water?
« Reply #7 on: 26/09/2012 19:04:46 »
I know someone who was thinking of using commercial bottled water as a low concentration uranium standard.
All water is irradiated.
 

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Re: Can you taste radioactivity in water?
« Reply #7 on: 26/09/2012 19:04:46 »

 

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