Flaherty family’s well water goes radioactive

CHAD HOBBS

Messenger Staff


The Meade County Water District has been expanding their water lines to bring more and more residents the opportunity to tie into county water for years. The only problem is that it is a slow and expensive process to expand the system. Just last September, the water district was approved for a $2.5 million low interest loan from the state. What do you get for $2.5 million? Well, General Manager Tim Gossett stated that they hoped to add approximately 18 miles of water lines with that money. Gossett explained the water district served about two-thirds of the county. This translates into roughly a third of the county with no other option but wells or cisterns to provide water to their households.

One such area is the Big Spring Road —St. Martins Road corridor of Flaherty (with the exception of right in town). Most people in this area, especially the farmers, have been content with wells their whole lives—sure there’s upkeep from time to time, but there is no chlorine taste or monthly bill (which would get pretty expensive for said farmers). The main downsides were that sooner or later the pump would have to be replaced, loss of water during an extended power outage as the pump runs on electricity and hard water.

Thanks to the limestone bedrock that lies beneath the soil in that part of the county, hard water and more specifically calcium buildup in hot water heaters and the like have long been the main “issue” with wells, though more of an inconvenience than anything else. At least, that was the case until one family’s well in the area came up positive for extremely high levels of uranium earlier this summer.

Now, yes, uranium can be found naturally in the soil in extremely low levels. Radon gas is the biggest problem in this part of the country. Radon is a radioactive gas that forms naturally when uranium, thorium, or radium, which are radioactive metals break down in rocks, soil and groundwater. The gas can then seep through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes and expose people to the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking. Though this is a big problem in Kentucky, natural occurring uranium was not the culprit for the radioactive well outside of Flaherty, however. That much has been lab confirmed.

Most people who are concerned with making sure their well is safe to drink from have the county health department test a sample. The problem with this is that their base test is totally inadequate to find contaminants such as heavy metals. According to the Lincoln Trail Health Department, the $50 test they do on a person’s well “analyzes for the presence of total coliform and E. Coli bacterium. Having your well tested routinely for the presence of coliform bacteria is recommended to gauge the bacterial quality of the water in your well.”

The issue with this test, like a neighbor to the uranium contaminated well explained, is that most people don’t realize how little is tested for in one of these standard health department tests. She said that they have had their water tested regularly since moving to their house out of concern for all the crop fields that surround her house. Though testing for bacteria such as E. Coli is a wise decision for well owners, she was totally unaware, until recently, that all those tests were not only failing to test for the pesticides she was most concerned about but also not testing for heavy metals such as uranium. In order to get those tests done, the price gets considerably more expensive and has to be sent to a specialty lab to be conducted. The cost for a heavy metals test is approximately $700.

So how did these unnaturally high levels of uranium find their way into at least one well in Flaherty and what have been the effects? Stay tuned next week as this investigative series dives deeper to answer those questions and more.

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