Hot pipes lead reporter to radioactive aquifer

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Mark Greenblatt, reporter for KHOU-Houston, reports that officials in Central Texas have been alarmed to discover high levels of radiation in the pipes and related systems that provide much of the region’s drinking water.

According to local officials, the contamination comes from years of exposure to drinking water that already tests over federal legal limits for radioactive radium. Of even more concern, they say, is that any water quality testing is done before the water runs through the contaminated pipes that could be adding even more radiation.

Almost as remarkable as the waterborne radiation itself? The fact that it was only discovered when city workers dug up old piping, brought it to the recycling center and were rejected because they were “too radioactive” to recycle.

Through his sources, Greenblatt knew the documents and tests proving the connection between a radioactive aquifer and “hot” pipes existed, but getting his hands on them was a different matter.

The call (with sources) was prompted by internal documents from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which identified a main source of the region’s water as radium contaminated. The TCEQ had initially refused to release the paper after a public-records request, and only did so under order from the Attorney General of Texas.

Greenblatt’s story runs much deeper, and it’s worth taking the time to appreciate the scope of his dense, document-rich investigation.

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