Colorado's Success

Addressing Concerns about Elevated Levels of Uranium in Drinking Water

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Uranium Levels Too High in the Water Supply

Routine water quality monitoring revealed that uranium levels in the drinking water at a state correctional facility in Sterling, Colorado had increased slightly and exceeded the limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Department of Corrections was concerned about possible health risks and needed help finding the right information to share with those who drank water with increased levels of uranium. They also wanted to determine the best ways to protect the health of the inmates and staff at the Sterling area prison.

Tracking Data Clarify Health Risk

The Colorado Tracking Programexternal icon worked with the state’s Water Quality Division (WQD) to determine the natural range of uranium in Colorado water supplies. These data showed that elevated levels of uranium were common in Colorado water. Their research supported other evidence that the small increase in uranium levels would pose a low risk to the health of those who drank the water. In addition to data analysis, the tracking program helped develop messages to educate prison staff and inmates about the low level of risk for health effects from exposure to uranium in the drinking water.

Prison Educates Inmates and Reduces Exposures

The warden of the Sterling area prison used information provided by the tracking program to explain the situation to inmates and respond to their questions and concerns about uranium exposure. As an extra measure to protect the health of staff, inmates, visitors, and volunteers, the Department of Corrections, in consultation with the WQD and state tracking program, decided to bring in drinking water to reduce uranium exposures until the water supply could be fixed. Now, a new, state-of-the-art water treatment facility supplies water with reduced levels of uranium to the prison.


Improved Data Quality

What is the problem?

Hospital discharge data are critical to monitoring community health problems. In Colorado, the geographic location of patient hospital stays, documenting where the patient lives, is missing up to one-third of the time. This limits practitioners’ and researchers’ ability to assess community health outcomes. They need to know whether these outcomes might be related to environmental factors.

What did Tracking do?

In partnership with the Colorado Health and Hospital Association, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has geocoded hospital discharge records from 2004 to the present. Geocodes assign a precise residence geography to at least 95% of the records.

Improved public health

Practitioners and researchers will be able to evaluate more effectively the relationship between environmental hazards or exposures and hospital stays. For example, practitioners and researchers will be able to assess the proximity and concentration of air pollutants and an excess number of hospital stays related to asthma.


Using environmental health indicators for assessment and planning

Colorado mountain landscape photo

What is the problem?

The legislatively mandated Colorado Public Health Improvement Plan of 2009 calls for a comprehensive set of public health indicators. These include environmental health indicators to be used in assessment and planning. Colorado does not currently have the ability to track environmental health indicators. Thus, those indicators are not included in community health assessment or in state or local-level planning. Developing Colorado environmental health indicators would meet state requirements and would help local health agencies move towards national accreditation.

What did Tracking do?

The tracking network provides the framework Colorado needs to track environmental health indicators. A group consisting of Colorado Environmental Public Health Tracking staff and members of Colorado Tracking’s Technical Advisory Committee has discussed, developed, and prioritized environmental indicators for Colorado. The group used Nationally Consistent Data and Measures where appropriate. The group will also develop Colorado-specific indicators such as radon and private well water. Through Colorado’s Tracking Web site, state and local health agencies will be able to query environmental health indicator data.

Improved public health

State and local public health agencies will use the new environmental health indicator data in assessments and planning to identify priorities for policies and programs throughout the state. This will help improve environmental quality and lower risk of exposure to environmental hazards. Leveraging the legislative mandate and the environmental public health tracking grantensures the development and use of a robust surveillance system for the state of Colorado and supports the goal of improving the health of Colorado residents.


Evaluating radon exposure

Construction of house on exposed soil

What is the problem?

Colorado has high levels of radon in the soil. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) model of predicted indoor air radon levels indicates 52 of the 64 counties in Colorado are likely to exceed 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). This is the level at which EPA recommends action. ( Voluntary radon test results had not been compiled by county—resources have not been available. So Colorado had no data to compare with the EPA model predictions. Also, little was known about peoples’ awareness of the need for testing, understanding of test results, or actions taken based on radon test results.

What did Tracking do?

The tracking program worked with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Radon Program to assess more than 85,000 radon test results. These results were voluntarily collected and reported to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from 2005 to 2009. The tracking program also compiled and analyzed data from the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. This survey gathered information on what Colorado residents report about radon risk in their homes. The Colorado Tracking Network will include a radon topic page featuring this information. Maps and tables will help visualize the data.

Improved public health

The information and data on the tracking Web site will be a resource for public health and environmental practitioners and the public. It will help guide intervention strategies and encourage Colorado residents to test for radon in their homes. Testing provides residents with information about indoor air radon levels. This addition to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s radon dataset will help to better understand radon levels in the state.


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Page last reviewed: January 3, 2014