Ponce de Leon explored Florida for the famed “Fountain of Youth” five hundred years ago, and came up empty, but locals claim that one radioactive source might actually be extending their lives. It’s in Punta Gorda, on Charlotte Harbor, and it’s a green-tiled fountain that butts up near an empty lot. It has a spigot near the top that releases water that comes from the artesian well that lies beneath the fountain. Each side of the fountain features the picture of a ship, as a tribute to Ponce de Leon and his quest for eternal life.
The side that faces away from the street features a public health warning that the water is radioactive and is contaminated. Not only that, but this water is sulfate heavy, which makes it smell like rotten eggs, but the locals still drink from this well on a regular basis.
As a result of the Clean Water Act, the well was tested in 1983, and it rated 9.2 picoCuries of radium 226 isotope per liter. The recommended radium limit is 5 picoCuries per liter. In 1986, the city considered plugging the well and changing the location of the fountain while hooking it up to city water, but the locals wouldn’t have it.
Many visitors have visited the well with their plastic bottles, ready to harness the legendary power of the fountain, but not so much anymore.
Radium can be found in about three to four percent of water across the country. The United States Geological Survey has found that many parts of the country have no radium in their local water sources, but when it turned up, it tended to be present in locations with certain types of rock formations that featured a particular type of water chemistry that made for the perfect place for radium. Florida was actually the third most likely part of the country to find water laced with radium.
In Florida’s case, the water is often surrounded by limestone, and it doesn’t store or absorb radium. So that makes it like a paper towel that doesn’t work. Since artesian wells tend to be extra low in oxygen, and oxygen helps to draw radium from the water, these water sources tend to have higher concentrations of radium in them.
The EPA offers a conservative recommendation of the amount of radium that is consumed, and it is based on consuming a liter daily for 70 years. Even if a person drank this much for these many years, the chances of actually getting cancer from the levels of radium that the fountain has are slim.
The fountain also contain high levels of magnesium, which helps to regulate everything from the heart to the blood pressure, and magnesium sulfate, aka Epsom salt is also present in the water, which helps to ease body aches and pains.
Whether the fountain in Punta Gorda is truly the stuff of legend or not, it is clear that the old timers of the town swear by its restorative properties.