Global Water Crisis Looms Large

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August 10, 2016 | 180,526 views

Story at-a-glance

  • The Summer Olympic Games have brought renewed attention to Brazil’s water pollution problem; 30 percent of the sewage lines in Rio de Janeiro are exposed, allowing raw sewage to flow openly through the streets
  • Contamination of water supplies around the globe has increased the cost of water treatment by 50 percent in some areas, making it increasingly difficult to provide safe drinking water
  • Two primary contributors to water contamination and treatment costs are farms operating in areas that supply water to surrounding cities, and large numbers of people living on and around underground watersheds

By Dr. Mercola

Clean, pure water — in sufficient amounts — is one of the most important foundations for optimal health.

Unfortunately, most tap water is far from pure, containing a vast array of disinfection byproducts, fluoride, radiation, heavy metals, agricultural runoff, pharmaceutical drugs and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used in the production of Teflon and flame retardants.1

And that's the short list. What's worse, more than half of the 300-plus chemicals detected in U.S. drinking water are not even regulated.2

Each year, red flags over toxic drinking water are raised across the U.S., with reasons varying from location to location. The poisoning of Flint, Michigan, brought much-needed attention to the problem in the U.S., while also exposing the political inertia and outright lies that allow these things to happen.

Olympic Games Highlight Brazil's Water Pollution Problem

In Brazil, the Summer Olympic Games have brought renewed attention to that nation's horrendous water pollution problem.3,4

According to reports, 30 percent of the sewage lines in Rio de Janeiro are exposed, allowing raw sewage to flow openly through the streets, and Guanabara Bay, where sailing competitions will be held, is severely contaminated with fecal matter.

Only half of the city's sewage is ever treated before spilling into waterways. But Brazil certainly is not alone. Water pollution is a significant problem around the world, including the United States. Deteriorating infrastructure only adds to an already challenging problem.

Safe Drinking Water Is Becoming More Difficult to Obtain

According to a recent study, contamination of water supplies around the globe has increased the cost of water treatment by 50 percent in some areas, making it increasingly difficult to provide safe drinking water for all residents.

According to the researchers, two major culprits contributing to the contamination and subsequent price hikes are farms operating in areas that supply water to surrounding cities, and large numbers of people living on and around underground watersheds. As reported by Reuters:5

"Nearly 90 percent of the world's urban watersheds face some level of degradation from agricultural chemicals and increased sediment, making water treatment more expensive, the study said ...

When someone upstream decides to expand agriculture or build more houses it will have a cost (on water treatment) which is not accounted for in the market place,' said McDonald, lead scientist at The Nature Conservatory, an environmental group."

The answer is better land-use management that addresses fertilizer runoff. Dramatic reduction in fertilizer use is also recommended. These remedies are equally costly, but at least they provide a more long-lasting solution.

In some areas, farmers are trying new conservation methods to ward off toxic runoff and protect water quality. Strategies include the construction of artificial wetlands and underground "bioreactors" hooked up to drainage systems to capture nutrients.6

Others have started using cover crops and no-till methods to slow fertilizer and pesticide runoff. The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative alone spends $30 million a year to curb agricultural pollution in its high-priority watersheds.

According to one study, it would cost as much as $2.7 billion a year to shrink the dead zone in the Gulf, created by agricultural pollution washing down the Mississippi river.

Lakes and Rivers Across US Are Severely Polluted

While some water contamination is invisible, some is clearly evident. There's no mistaking the raw sewage flow and trash-filled beaches of Rio de Janeiro, for example.

Algae blooms are another sign that agricultural runoff has contaminated a body of water, the nitrogen feeding microorganisms that explode in numbers, turning the water thick and bright red, neon green or muddy brown, with a stench to match.

As the microorganisms extract oxygen from the water, fish and other water organisms suffocate and die in large numbers. The bacteria are also hazardous to anyone coming into contact with the water.

Questions have also been raised about the potential hazards of eating fruits and vegetables irrigated with algae-infested water. As reported by The Washington Post:7

"Utah Lake, a freshwater lake that covers some 150 square miles — one of the largest lakes in the Western states — has been drenched in cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae.

The bacterial cell counts reached the tens of millions per milliliter, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Two years prior, a cyanobacteria bloom that was toxic enough to kill two dogs was far less concentrated, numbering in the hundreds of thousands of cells per milliliter."

Ohio's Lake Erie is another troubled hotspot. Not only is this large freshwater reserve plagued by algae blooms, chemical contamination is so severe the lake has actually caught on fire several times.8 Other severely affected lakes in Ohio include Buckeye Lake and Grand Lake St. Marys.9

Four Florida Counties Declare State of Emergency Over Algae Blooms

Adding to these ever-growing conundrums is a lack of investment in infrastructure. Old water pipes can leach lead and other toxic materials, leading to catastrophe. The poisoning that occurred in Flint, Michigan, is but one such example. In August 2015, Virginia Tech scientists led by Marc Edwards18 discovered Flint's tap water was contaminated with, in some cases, astronomically high levels of lead.

They also found a number of other toxins, including high levels of trihalomethanes19 — carcinogenic byproducts from water treatment — and dangerous bacteria such as E.coli and Legionella, the latter of which is suspected of causing an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease.20 Illinois also battled an outbreak of Legionnaire's last year, courtesy of contaminated drinking water.21

Fifty-three residents of the Veterans Home in Quincy — a 129-year-old facility — were sickened and 12 died, which led to the implementation of a $5 million water treatment plant and new delivery system. Still, a month after the reconstruction, two more veterans contracted the disease. Authorities are currently working on identifying the source of the new outbreak.

Edwards also blew the whistle on lead-contaminated water in Washington, D.C. back in 2003. As in Flint, some of the lead levels in the water were high enough to be classified as hazardous waste. Yet in both instances, the EPA kept the contamination problems under wraps.

Lead Contamination Appear to be Widespread in the US

Lead contamination may be far more widespread in the U.S. than previously realized, as municipalities have dragged their feet when it comes to replacing old water pipes. For instance, 8.5 percent of children in Pennsylvania have elevated lead levels, as do 6.7 percent in parts of New York State and 20 percent in Detroit.22

In Baltimore, schools have relied on bottled water for years due to elevated lead levels in the tap water. According to a recent investigation, at least 350 schools and day care centers across the U.S. test above the EPA's action level for lead content in water. 23,24 In the U.S. as a whole, more than half a million children between the ages of 1 and 5 suffer from lead poisoning. As noted in a recent Pittsburg Post-Gazette article:25

"Lead causes a multitude of cognitive deficits, from attention problems and learning disorders to disruptive behaviors, impulsivity and increased aggression. Lead is most detrimental to children because their brains are still developing — in fact they absorb [four] to [five] times as much ingested lead as adults from a given source, according to the World Health Organization.

There is no safe level of lead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and damage is irreversible. Not all is understood on its impact, but one thing is clear — the best treatment is prevention and abatement."

Water Safety Questioned in Massachusetts

Corrosive groundwater speeds up and increases the release of toxic metals from old water pipes. This problem was recently highlighted in a report by the Boston Globe, which noted that 90 percent of the groundwater in Massachusetts may be corrosive enough to cause the leaching of toxic metals from household pipes. Residents drawing water from private wells are at greatest risk. Signs you may have a corrosion problem include:

Blue-green stains in your sink

Metallic-tasting water

Small plumbing leaks

Industrial Farms Are Among the Worst Polluters on the Planet

It's a painful irony that agriculture has become one of the worst polluters on the planet, contaminating soil, air and water with toxic pollutants as par for the course of food production. According to a report26 by Environment America, Tyson Foods Inc. is the worst polluter of U.S. waterways, releasing 104.4 million pounds of toxic pollutants into waterways between 2010 and 2014, second only to a steel manufacturing company.

In third place, we have the U.S. Department of Defense, followed by Cargill and another steel manufacturer. Of the top 15 polluters on this list, six are food companies, commingling with some of the largest chemical producers in the world, including DuPont and BASF.

There are answers. Old pipes can be replaced, thereby addressing lead contamination, but in order to address water contamination as a whole, not to mention the depletion of freshwater aquifers, we must prevent contaminants from entering the water in the first place and reduce water consumption.

This is the only way to adequately address declining water quality and quantity, and this would require significant changes to entire industries. What we need is sufficient will — personal, corporate and political — to implement the needed changes.

How You Can Protect Your Health and Promote Healthy Change

In the meantime, you'd be wise to take precautions to protect your health as best you can, which includes evaluating the safety of your water and making sure your water is properly filtered. You can find more information about water filtration in my previous article, Lead-Contaminated Water Becoming Increasingly Prevalent.

You can also push for positive change by purchasing foods from farmers who have implemented regenerative practices. Remember, each time you buy food, you're voting for a system. Either you're promoting the status quo, which is destroying our air, soil and water, or you're furthering a cleaner more sustainable system. En masse, we can have a great impact on how foods are grown and raised. If you live in the U.S., the following organizations can help you locate organically-grown and non-CAFO foods:

EatWild.com

EatWild.com provides lists of farmers known to produce wholesome raw dairy products as well as grass-fed beef and other farm-fresh produce. Here you can also find information about local farmers markets, as well as local stores and restaurants that sell grass-fed products.

Weston A. Price Foundation

Weston A Price has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass-fed raw dairy products like milk and butter.

Grassfed Exchange

The Grassfed Exchange has a listing of producers selling organic and grass-fed meats across the U.S.

Local Harvest

This website will help you find farmers markets, family farms and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.

Farmers Markets

A national listing of farmers markets.

Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals

The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.

Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA)

CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.

FoodRoutes

The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.

The Cornucopia Institute

The Cornucopia Institute maintains web-based tools rating all certified organic brands of eggs, dairy products, and other commodities, based on their ethical sourcing and authentic farming practices separating CAFO "organic" production from authentic organic practices.

RealMilk.com

If you're still unsure of where to find raw milk, check out Raw-Milk-Facts.com and RealMilk.com. They can tell you what the status is for legality in your state, and provide a listing of raw dairy farms in your area. You can also find a slew of information about raw milk on their "facts about real raw milk" page.

The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund27 also provides a state-by-state review of raw milk laws.28 California residents can also find raw milk retailers using the store locator available at www.OrganicPastures.com.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 The Intercept December 16, 2015
  • 2 EWG.org National Drinking Water Database
  • 3 Newsweek July 28, 2016
  • 4 STAT News July 27, 2016
  • 5 Reuters July 25, 2016
  • 6 The Christian Science Monitor December 27, 2015
  • 7 Washington Post July 25, 2016
  • 8 Wired August 4, 2014
  • 9 Columbus Dispatch August 3, 2015
  • 10, 11 Medicinenet.com July 14, 2016
  • 12 Theswimguide.org
  • 13 CDC.gov, Understanding CAFOs and Their Impact on Communities (PDF)
  • 14 Mashable June 16, 2015
  • 15 Water Resources Research June 2015: 51(6)
  • 16 National Geographic August 2014
  • 17 National Geographic August 2016
  • 18 Chronicle of Higher Education February 2, 2016
  • 19 Water Quality and Health March 13, 2015
  • 20 New Yorker February 4, 2016
  • 21 Fox News July 28, 2016
  • 22 New York Times February 13, 2016
  • 23 Gizmodo March 18, 2016
  • 24 PBS Newshour April 19, 2016
  • 25 Pittsburg Post-Gazette July 19, 2016
  • 26 Environment America February 4, 2016
  • 27 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund
  • 28 The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, State by State Review of Raw Milk Laws