Levels at the site of the first well, which has been built but lacks an operating permit, might contain at least twice the maximum level of radium that regulators allow.
Radon, a poisonous gas that is a byproduct of radium's radioactive decay, also was found in water samples from both well sites, according to local officials.
A DEP spokesman said that radon is routinely found with radium and that there are no federal standards for minimum acceptable levels of radon in water.
The tests were ordered by the Washington Township Municipal Utilities Authority and made public at a meeting yesterday in Trenton between officials
from the township and the DEP. Despite the results, DEP officials held out hope that the Gloucester County township could salvage the water system it has already spent $650,000 to build.
In addition, the DEP officials promised to conduct random tests of private water wells in the area where the radium was discovered. Homeowners dependent on the private wells were advised to stay calm.
"If you're a homeowner with your own private well . . . and you're a super health-conscious person, you might want to get your water tested or get bottled water," said Barker Hamill, DEP chief of the bureau of safe drinking water. "My personal feeling is that's a waste of time and money. At this point, I would drink the water."
The meeting with DEP was held as Washington Township faces obstacles in its
plans to build a new water system that will keep this fast-growing part of Gloucester County from running short of water.
Earlier this month, the DEP refused to issue an operating permit for the first well completed as part of that new system. State officials said water
from the well contained more than 5 picocuries of radium per liter of water, the maximum amount considered safe by law.
A picocurie is the standard unit of measurement for radioactivity.
MARGIN OF ERROR
The utilities authority then ordered its own tests from a laboratory in New Mexico. Although the results contain a significant margin of error because the lab was asked to hurry, this is what authority engineer Joseph Federici told DEP officials that they show:
* For water from the first well, 11.5 picocuries per liter of water, plus or minus 3.8 picocuries, for one type of radium, and less than 2 picocuries per liter of water for a second type.
* For water from the site of the second well, 7.4 picocuries per liter of water, plus or minus 2.4 picocuries, for the first type of radium, and less than 2 picocuries per liter of water for the other type.
Saying that these results tend to confirm his own, DEP's Hamill told officials from the township that he believes the radium problem is "fairly small, fairly isolated."
He advised Washington Township to proceed on three different tracks - to order new tests of the water, to search for alternative sources of water in case the township has to abandon its current plans, and to design a method of treating radium-contaminated water.