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Excess radiation found in ancient Jordan wells

By Nick Vinocur
Reuters / February 26, 2009
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LONDON - Ancient underground wells in water-deprived Jordan have 20 times more radiation than is considered safe for drinking, researchers said yesterday, raising concern about water safety across the Middle East.

Their study showed that water from an underground source in Jordan contained high levels of a naturally occurring radioactive particle linked to some cancers, posing a health risk to thousands of people in central Jordan who drink it.

Several other Middle Eastern countries have recently tried to offset water shortages by tapping similar underground reservoirs, as growing populations have overwhelmed supply.

This could expose people in Israel, Egypt, Libya, and Saudi Arabia to high levels of radioactivity because these countries tap similar sources for drinking water and agriculture, researchers said.

"It's water you don't want to drink," said Avner Vengosh, a researcher at Duke University in the United States, who led the study published in Environmental Science and Technology.

"Several studies have shown it is associated with high levels of bone cancer. Others have even shown some association with leukemia."

Vengosh and colleagues examined water samples from 37 pumping wells in the Disi aquifer, along Jordan's southern border with Saudi Arabia, for signs of radioactivity.

Jordan has expanded exploitation of the Disi aquifer as its annual water use exceeds the capacity of its major river, the Yarmouk, and over-pumping has made other sources too salty.

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