Mainly due to its nephrotoxic and osteotoxic potential, uranium (U) increasingly finds itself in the spotlight of environmental and health-related research. Germany decided on a binding U guideline value in drinking water of 10 µg/L, valid since 2011. It is yet widely unknown if and how public health was affected by elevated U concentrations before that. In this ecological study we summarized available drinking water U data for the German federal state of Bavaria (703 analyses in total for 553 different municipalities) at county level (for 76 out of 96 Bavarian counties, representing about 83% of Bavaria’s and about 13% of Germany’s total population) in terms of mean and maximum U concentration. Bavaria is known to regionally exhibit mainly geogenically elevated groundwater U with a maximum value of 40 µg/L in the database used here. Public health data were obtained from federal statistical authorities at county resolution. These included incidence rates of diagnosed diseases suspected to be potentially associated with chronic U uptake, e.g., diseases of the skeleton, the liver or the thyroid as well as tumor and genito-urinary diseases. The datasets were analyzed for interrelations and mutual spatial occurrence using statistical approaches and GIS as well as odds ratios and relative risks calculations. Weak but significant positive associations between maximum U concentrations and aggregated ICD-10 diagnose groups for growths/tumors as well as liver diseases were observed, elevated incidence rates of thyroid diseases seem to occur where mean drinking water U concentrations exceed 2 µg/L. Here, we discuss obtained results and their implications for potential impacts of hydrochemistry on public health in southeast Germany.
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