High uranium levels found in South Korean village water supply
SEOUL — Uranium levels 54.6 times the U.S. standard were found in water supplies in a village near Icheon, about 25 miles northeast of Osan Air Base, according to a South Korean government environmental report.
South Korea’s Ministry of Environment said it was not ready last week to release its full uranium survey of 93 sites in South Korea, but it issued a news release on its findings.
“None of the nationwide locations included where U.S. military installations are positioned,” Yoon Jung-gi of the National Institute of Environment Research told Stripes.
Uranium levels measured 1,640 micrograms per liter in Janpyeong-ri village near Icheon.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site mandates that safe drinking water remain under 30 micrograms of uranium per liter. South Korea does not have its own standard.
“Most drinking water sources have very low levels of radioactive contaminants (“radionuclides”), most of which are naturally occurring, although contamination of drinking water sources from human-made nuclear materials can also occur,” the EPA says on its Web site.
Exposure to high levels of uranium can be toxic to the liver, according to the EPA.
When a man from Janpyeong-ri had his hair tested by U.S.-based Trace Elements last year, the laboratory found uranium levels 302 times the safe level, according to South Korean media reports.
However, blood and urine tests are necessary to accurately test those levels, the ministry release said.
The National Institute for Environment Research will perform closer examinations on residents who have been drinking the local water for more than a decade, officials said.
The announcement highlights a recent spate of news concerning environmental issues on the peninsula.
A March 1 release from the environmental institute showed high levels of sulfur dioxide in the air when precipitation combines with air currents coming from China. The study was conducted between June and August last year and attributed the sulfur to Chinese heavy industry.
Sulfur is widely attributed as one of the main causes of acid rain.
Meanwhile, a survey of elementary school students released last month showed 2.42 parts per billion of mercury in their blood, compared to 0.34 ppb in the United States, according to the survey.
The survey did not indicate reasons for the higher levels. Mercury can affect neurological development in fetuses and young children, according to the EPA.
High levels of mercury can be found in tuna and other types of larger, migratory fish.
Almost all people have trace amounts of mercury in their bodies, according to the EPA.