United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Frequently Asked Questions About Radium

On this page:

Index to All Frequently Asked Questions Pages

To top of page

Why does the NRC want to look at my property?

The NRC has identified sites where: (1) radium was or was likely used in the past; and (2) documentation is unavailable to demonstrate that there is no residual radium material. Your site is one of the properties identified. It is important to note that the NRC has not identified radium contamination on your property. Your property was selected because documentation is unavailable to demonstrate that there is no residual radium material. In many cases, radium use occurred in the early 1900s. Residual radium material may have resulted from radium devices that were stored or manufactured at sites throughout the United States. The NRC is working as quickly as possible to verify whether residual radium material is found on these sites and, if found, whether it exists at concentrations that could impact members of the public.

To top of page

How did you find my site?

The NRC found your property as a result of a nationwide search for sites with potential residual radium material. We began the search after learning of two sites with residual radium material through our inspection and licensing activities. The search focused on past manufacturers of radium-containing consumer products to identify sites that likely handled large amounts of radium, and thus, have the highest potential for residual radium material to have been present when those operations ceased. The NRC would not have licensed these sites because their operations pre-dated the NRC's authority to regulate radium.

To top of page

I know radium was used where I live/work/go to school. What can I do to protect myself and my family and what will the NRC be doing on the property?

We cannot say at this time whether any protective action needs to be taken. The NRC will be conducting surveys to determine whether there is any residual radium material present and, if so, how much. Once we have that information, we will be in a better position to discuss whether protective measures are needed. Our analysis of risk will consider the current uses of the site. Using the results, the NRC will work with the site owner to ensure public health and safety remains protected. Measures could range from implementing public access controls to any areas that are found to have radium to remediating the site to meet our cleanup regulations.

To top of page

What are the potential health consequences if radium is found on my property?

The presence of radium by itself does not mean there have been health effects. The potential health effects depend on the amount of radium present as well as the time a person may spend near contamination and their proximity, and whether any shielding (material, such as concrete or lead that blocks radiation) is in place. Large radiation doses from radium have been shown to cause adverse health effects such as anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, cancer, and death. The relationship between the amount of radium that you are exposed to and the amount of time necessary to produce these effects is not known. Although there is some uncertainty as to how much exposure to radiation from radium increases your chances of developing a harmful health effect, the greater the total amount of your exposure to radiation from radium, the more likely you are to develop one of these diseases.

If radium is present, exposure may be possible through radiation emitted from the radium. Radium can enter the body when it is breathed in or swallowed, if it is in a dust material that may become airborne such as powders and liquids. It is not known if it can be taken in through the skin. It is impossible at this time to say whether anyone at your property has been exposed to radium in quantities of concern, and if so, whether the exposure would be great enough to result in health effects. There is considerable uncertainty in predicting, based on the amount of radium that you have been exposed to and over what period of time, whether you could experience health effects. In spite of this uncertainty, the greater the total amount of your exposure to radium, the more likely you are to develop one of these diseases.

The NRC will be further surveying any sites where radium is found so that we can understand how much, if any, exposure there may have been. When we have that information, we'll be better able to speak to possible health concerns.

Additional information can be found at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Web site or in a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding Radium-226.

To top of page

Is it safe? Do I need to move?

There are currently no known health and safety risks at any sites. We cannot make any safety recommendations or impose any requirements without more information about a specific site. The NRC has been working with your State to obtain any existing cleanup records and is moving forward with plans to perform site visits and surveys. Initial site visits will focus on identifying any health and safety concerns. NRC staff will then follow up with a second visit to survey the site to confirm that there is no residual radium material that may pose longer-term health risks. We will have more information after the initial site visit and follow-on site surveys, and will be able to determine whether protective measures, such as public access controls, may be necessary.

To top of page

Why hasn't the NRC done anything about this before now?

In 2007-2009, the NRC took over as the regulator of radium in certain States. States that have agreements with the NRC allowing them to regulate radioactive materials, known as Agreement States, retain jurisdiction over radium.

At the time we became the regulator for radium, the NRC had some knowledge of radium use and contamination associated with military activities. In 2013, the NRC learned two non-military sites with radium contamination that were undergoing cleanup by other Federal agencies. At that point the NRC began to search for other non-military sites nationwide where radium had been used in manufacturing. We received the final results of the search in November 2015. Based on this information, we developed a plan to learn more about these sites to ensure public health and safety is protected.

To top of page

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, October 12, 2016