Gov. Office Status
Skip to main content


What is Uranium?

Uranium is a radioactive, naturally occurring element that is mined from the earth. It is commonly found in rocks, soil, and air.

Uranium can be released by volcanic eruptions. The decay of uranium in rocks and soil forms radon, a radioactive gas.

The main uses of uranium are in fuel for nuclear power plants, and as Uranium-235, in nuclear weapons. When uranium is separated, or enriched, it produces depleted uranium. Depleted uranium is used as a shield to protect people from radiation in medicine, research, and transportation.

See also: Uranium Tailings Mines Power Plants Drinking Water Abandoned Military Sites

Where is Uranium found?

  • Air – naturally occurring in air and dust
  • Food – naturally occurring in root crops such as potatoes, parsnips, and sweet potatoes
  • Water – deposited by natural processes

How can I be exposed to Uranium?

Uranium commonly enter(s) the body through:


Ingestion (swallowing)

  • Swallowing food or water that contains uranium

Inhalation (breathing)

  • Breathing air or dust that contains uranium

Skin contact

  • Touching food or soil that contains uranium

What happens when I am exposed to Uranium?

The health effects of natural and depleted uranium are due to chemical effects and not to radiation.

Exposure to uranium can cause:

  • Kidney disease
  • Lung damage

Who is at risk for exposure to Uranium?

  • Consumers
    • Some foods and water contain uranium.
  • People who live near uranium facilities, or areas where uranium weapons are used.
  • People with kidney disease.

Reduce your risk

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to uranium, contact your health care professional. 

Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chemicals. For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.


  • Do you use well water?
  • Do you eat root vegetables that are grown in soil with uranium deposits?
  • Do you collect rocks and minerals that might contain uranium?
  • Do you live near facilities that make or test nuclear weapons, mine or process uranium ore, or enrich uranium for reactor fuel?
  • Do you live near an abandoned uranium mine or an area where depleted uranium weapons are used?
  • Do you use old ceramic dishes that have a uranium glaze?
  • Avoid eating root vegetables grown in soil with high levels of uranium.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables grown in that soil and discard the outside portion of the vegetables.
  • Routinely test your well water for uranium.
  • If your well water has high levels of uranium, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for information on how to reduce your exposure.
  • If your well water contains uranium levels above EPA’s drinking water advisory levels, consider using bottled water for drinking and cooking or install an activated carbon filtration system or reverse osmosis system.
  • If you use ceramic dishes made before the 1970s, the color glazes may contain radioactive minerals.
  • Don’t let children play near abandoned mines or facilities where uranium may be used.

National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases

Additional Resources

  • Depleted Uranium (DU)
    Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center
    Factsheet on sources and uses of depleted uranium (DU), and its associated health risks due to radiation and chemical exposure.
  • Uranium in Your Well Water
    Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
    Answers to questions about uranium in well water, including associated health concerns, testing, removal efforts, and maintaining water systems.
  • Depleted Uranium. RadTown USA
    Environmental Protection Agency
    Information on depleted uranium, including rules and guidance for monitoring exposure, and links to additional resources.
  • Understanding Exposure and Health Effects: Uranium and Human Health
    New Mexico Environmental Department and Department of Health
    Resource on uranium that addresses sources of exposure in soil and water in New Mexico, as well as associated health effects, and actions to take if exposure has occurred.
  • Uranium. ToxFAQs
    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
    Factsheet with answers to most frequently asked questions about uranium exposure and its effect on human health, developed by a federal public health agency that protects communities from harmful health effects related to exposure to natural and man-made hazardous substances.
  • Uranium (Nuclear)
    US Energy Information Administration
    Information on nuclear uranium from a web resource about energy for middle school students and teachers. This entry addresses nuclear power plants and nuclear fission, types of nuclear reactors, uranium production, and nuclear power and the environment.
Back to top