Filtering Radioactive Particles From Water

Reader Contribution by Linda Holliday
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Here in the Ozarks, we’re aggressively expanding our gardens, acquiring old-time skills and tools, and building people-powered devices. But, preparing for radioactive rain? We hadn’t thought of that.

While global warming still seemed a fairytale, I boycotted Styrofoam, aerosols, pesticides and paper towels after reading “The End of Nature” and “Earth in the Balance” 25 years ago. One little human, I hoped Earth would live a few more centuries.

I skimmed over forewarnings of nuclear mishaps and contamination, which were unfathomable to me then. Now, with an incalculable radioactive mess rolling across the Pacific, I want information.

Australian physician Helen Caldicott said recently, “the world would never be the same again,” after a tsunami crashed into the Fukushima nuclear complex in Japan. Caldicott has opposed nuclear power for decades. Her books include “Nuclear Madness” and “Nuclear Power is not the Answer.”

She warned us this could happen.

Remember how horrifying acid rain was 30 years ago? Picking up industrial emissions, rain killed vast northern forests, fish and birds, even eroding noses from marble statues. Instead of revitalizing life, rain became something to fear.

Acid rain is seldom news anymore, perhaps because we made headway in cleaning up our act, reducing U.S. emissions 67 percent after 1995, according to

But, rain may be terrifying again.

Nuclear contamination in the Pacific is not a temporary West Coast problem. Our globe is a closed system. The water here now is all that has ever been here. I washed our clothes today in water that passed through a pterodactyl 200 million years ago.

This isn’t a new concept. I learned that in grade school. Water evaporates from puddles and oceans, accumulates above and rains down, replenishing rain barrels and rivers.

Less than 1 percent of water on our planet is accessible, fresh water. Picture this: If all of the Earth’s water fit into a gallon jug, only one tablespoon is water we can drink. 

In Vietnam, I watched a woman rinse lettuce with water from an open well. I didn’t even have to ask whether the water was safe to drink. The answer was mounted in my hotel room: “Water is not drinkable.”

The U.S. has some of the safest drinking water, according to the CDC, yet Americans dump 1 billion tons of pesticides on our land annually. We pour costly poisons on our lawns and then buy outrageously expensive bottled water.

The 270,000 tons of contaminated water seeping from Japan since March 2011 (with 300 tons still released daily) is cataclysmically more alarming.

As news emerges about radioactive elements and inert noble gases entering our environment, people are calling to ask if radioactive particles can be filtered naturally. We sell well buckets and manual pumps. I can only imagine the calls water filter suppliers receive.

“There is no safe amount of radiation exposure. Every little bit is added to our burden,” Highwater Filters owner Hilary Ohm said. “Any reduction will help.”

Our unsophisticated human senses cannot detect radiation. It cannot be felt, seen, tasted or heard, but exists, accumulating in our bodies.

Ohm also protested against nuclear use in the 1970s after hearing Caldicott’s speech, “If You Love this Planet,” later banned by the U.S. Justice Department. “We have to make nukes and fossil fuels things of the past,” Ohm said.

Ohm recommended pressuring government to shut down aging nuclear plants, such as the 40-year-old facility at Indian Point, New York, which was recently re-permitted although only designed for 40 years. “A meltdown there could affect millions,” she said.

Admittedly, the outlook is grim and requires preparations we hadn’t anticipated.

We’ve known mankind would eventually strip the world’s resources (some say by 2050). We hoped to live long enough to see a simpler life – one without cars, chaos and technology. Ironically, pursuing luxuries only abundant electricity could provide is what led to this calamity of worldwide proportion.

In time, radiation decays – Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been rebuilt. Yet, 200 dangerous elements are being released now, much more than from those two horrendous bombs, which can remain radioactive for thousands of years.

Some Japanese beaches have reopened and fishermen are working, but netting smaller loads and pay. Some fishermen, according to the Japan Times, are trolling for tsunami debris (bicycles and building materials) instead of tuna.

We also must adjust to an altered environment. The following information is from the SAS Survival Handbook and deals with radioactive contamination after a nuclear blast, although some principles apply to the current threat:

Food – Root vegetables are safest (carrots, potatoes, turnips). Wash and peel before cooking. Smooth-skinned fruits and vegetables are the next safest. Plants with crinkly foliage are hardest to decontaminate and should be avoided. Animals living underground (rabbits, badgers, voles) have less radiation exposure than surface animals. Leave at least 1/8 inch of meat on the bone as most radiation is retained in the skeleton. Discard all organs. Fish and aquatic animals have higher contamination than land animals from the same area. Birds will be particularly heavily contaminated and should not be eaten.

Water – Avoid static surface water (lakes, pools, ponds). Filter and boil all water before using. The following sources are the least contaminated (in order of least risk):

  1. Underground wells and springs
  2. Water in underground pipes and containers
  3. Snow taken from deep below the surface
  4. Fast-flowing rivers

Again, this concerns radioactive fallout; however, time and distance from the source are still the best defense. It may be more important than ever to have a deep drilled well for drinking water and a reliable way to access it.

Filters – TRAP (Total Radioisotope Aqua Purifier) filters, which use ion exchange and zeolite to remove radioactive particles from drinking water, are effective, especially when combined with reverse osmosis. Distilling and reverse osmosis methods both are reported effective.

There are now 437 nuclear reactors worldwide. Those who protested nuclear plant construction decades ago knew we had something to fear, didn’t they? Shouldn’t we have been more careful with our one tablespoon of water? Or did we plan to post warnings that “Water is not drinkable?”

Or maybe we can learn from acid rain.

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Linda Holliday lives in the Missouri Ozarks where she and her husband formed Well WaterBoy Productsa company devoted to helping people live more self-sufficiently off grid with human power, and invented the WaterBuck Pump.

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