People in 37 small communities across the state are drinking tap water that violates new health standards for radioactive contaminants, according to state records.

Health officials are now trying to help those water systems – serving 30,000 people – remove the naturally occurring uranium and radium radionuclides, which pose a threat of cancer and kidney damage.

The problem is cost, state and local officials say.

A treatment system for Sterling – the largest of the systems, with 14,000 residents – could cost $4.5 million to $12 million, town officials estimate.

“When you’ve got a couple million customers tied in, you can afford treatment,” said Jack Rycheky, chief of the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional drinking water program in Denver. “But if you have 100 people . . . treatment is very expensive.”

The Denver Post reviewed state water- quality records after a bacterial-contamination crisis in Alamosa last month.

In that southern Colorado town, 400 residents became sick after salmonella tainted the water system. Officials estimated that it has cost $600,000 to deal with the outbreak.

While Alamosa’s salmonella outbreak dominated headlines, records reveal that elevated levels of natural constituents such as arsenic, uranium and radium have caused more chronic problems in Colorado.

“There is a huge concern in Colorado about radionuclides,” said the EPA’s Rycheky.

The Hillside Trailer Park in La Junta is one of the 37 sites around the state in hot water today.

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