“Florida’s radioactive fountain of youth”

Source: Ilovemywater.com

Jackie Snow writes for National Geographic about Florida’s public water fountain that contains radium and magnesium and, “May prolong life.”

She begins with the legend of Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon, who set off to discover the ‘fountain of youth’ in the 1500’s and landed on the mainland of Florida.  Many fountains sprang up, “Claiming the title of the one legendary fountain,” she writes.

But, only one fountain in Florida is radioactive, according to the EPA.  Despite this, the fountain in Punta Gorda is still in use today.  A sign on one side of the fountain states, “Exceeds the maximum contaminant level for radioactivity.”

Snow writes about one lady who swears by Punta Gorda’s artisan water well that she describes as stinking of sulfates, like “rotten eggs”:

“I drank out of that well every day,” said Gussie Baker, a resident of Punta Gorda for all of her 78 years.

Baker used to live down the road from the Hotel Punta Gorda, whose guests would frolic in a pool filled with water from the same aquifer. Baker learned to swim in the pool and passed the fountain on her way to school.

“I love artesian water,” she said. Baker doesn’t live as close to the fountain anymore, but says she would drink it if she were nearby.

The fountain was built in 1926, according to the article.  And, despite several attempts to shut it down through water legislation, the fountain remains.  So, why would residents continue to drink from a fountain known to be radioactive?  The article continues:

Punta Gorda’s water clocked in at 9.2 picoCuries of radium-226 isotope per liter when it was tested in 1983. This exceeded the recommended radium limit, set at 5 picoCuries per liter.

As a result, in 1986, the city council mulled plugging the well, moving the fountain, and hooking it up to city water. But locals fought back.

“They’ve tried several times over the years to close it down, to seal it up, to move it or hook it to the city water, and the public has always defeated that,” said Wilson Harper, a 71-year-old former water utilities supervisor better known as “Water Bill.”

Snow sites a recent U.S. Geographical Survey that radium shows up in 3 to 4 % of water from around the country,  It turns out that radium prefers limestone rock formations and Florida is the 3rd most likely place to find radium water.  But, according to one author of the USGS study, the amounts of radium at the Punta Gorda fountain are not particularly harmful.  Snow writes:

Zoltan Szabo, a co-author of the study who has worked at the United States Geological Survey for 28 years, explained that Florida’s water is frequently encased in limestone, which doesn’t absorb or store radium. “It’s like a bad paper towel,” Szabo said of the common Floridian rocks.

Artesian water supplies are especially low in oxygen, which also helps draw radium out of the water. Szabo hasn’t looked at the Punta Gorda water supply in particular but says the levels of radium at which the fountain tested are not especially dangerous.

The EPA’s recommended levels are very conservative, Szabo said, and are based on drinking a liter a day for 70 years. Even if that was the amount and length of time someone drank the water, the chance of getting cancer is still low, Szabo said, in the range of 1 in 20,000.

There’s another ingredient in this artisan water that may help to explain why it indeed might help to prolong life, magnesium.  Snow poses the question, is magnesium beneficial?

More than 80 percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium, which helps the body regulate heart muscles and control high blood pressure. The World Health Organization recommends that drinking water contain at least 25 milligrams of magnesium per liter, and a U.S. Academy of Science study from 1977 found that 150,000 deaths a year in the United States could be prevented with additional magnesium in water.

According to Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, the fountain’s 46 ppm of magnesium puts it on par with other mineral waters like San Pellegrino.

The compound magnesium sulfate also makes an appearance in the water. It’s better known as Epsom salt, which has been used in baths to ease aches and pains for years.

Magnesium is regularly removed from many bottled waters by a process known as reverse osmosis. And the fluoride added to many public water supplies counteracts magnesium, too.

Another plus for the public drinking fountain is that it’s not chlorinated, as city water supplies are.  Read the full story by Jackie Snow, click here.

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