“Some of these chemicals rub off on children or pets, but most are washed with rainwater into our streams, lakes and rivers or are absorbed into our groundwater. These are the sources of our drinking water, and tests show these chemicals are indeed contaminating our water supply.”
– from an article by Diane Lewis in The New York Times issue of Sunday, May 11, 2014
Around 1971, the young Amandala began to attack a nail factory in Belize whose toxic waste, emptied into the Haulover Creek, was causing fish kills. At that time, Belizeans in the old capital still derived most of their drinking water from vats and cisterns which stored rainwater which ran off their zinc roofs. This was not as big a story as it should have been, because, generally speaking, we did not drink the Haulover Creek water. In addition, the economists and politicians of Belize had committed the self-governing colony to the import substitution rage of the times. The nail factory was one such new import substitution investment. So, the economists and politicians did not react to the situation, probably wondering, we suppose, how it was that we were going to develop if we closed down factories because of dead catfish.
On Tuesday evening this week, Channel 7 ran a news story which did not appear, as far as we aware, on the other television news programs. The Sibun River, specifically at Gracie Rock, was again showing visible signs of having been polluted from upstream. This time the pollutants were “milky white,” whereas a few years ago the pollutants were actually green in color. It seems to us that the Channel 7 Sibun River story is not making as big a splash as it should.
Toxins in our food and our water take a relatively long time to accumulate in our bodies and kill us. Gun shots and traffic accidents get much more attention in Belize than environmental pollution, and perhaps understandably so. Belizeans, however, have become alarmed about what appears to be rapid growth in our cancer rates, especially breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. These are eminently fatty tissues in the specific gender, and toxins are known to find fatty tissues to be the most attractive.
The human body is almost 75 percent water, and requires water more urgently than food for survival purposes. If the water we are putting into our bodies is toxic in any way, this will cause health problems for us over a period of time. About two decades ago, bottled water began to become the rage in Belize. The immediate concern, from our perspective, became the plastic containers, because plastics have been shown to present dangers to human health. Belizeans did not worry about the purified water itself, because, to begin with, we had taken it for granted that our Belizean sources of water were basically pristine. This is not so. We Belizeans were being ignorant and innocent.
In The New York Times issue of Sunday, May 11, 2014, an article by Diane Lewis considers the dangers posed by the chemicals Americans use to have their lawns and gardens look so beautiful and immaculate. These chemicals include glyphosate, carbaryl, malathion, and 2, 4-D. Lewis points out that the chemicals can end up in drinking water, and in some cases these compounds or their breakdown products are linked to an increased risk for cancer and hormonal disruption. What caught our Belizean attention was Ms. Lewis’ categorical declaration that when these chemicals wind up in our drinking water, they are not removed by water treatment. “Bottled water is not a solution because it comes from the same sources and is susceptible to the same contaminants.”
So then, it is of great importance to know where Belize’s bottled water companies are getting the water they are supposedly purifying. We know that George and Candy Gonzalez have stayed on the case for years with respect to mercury contamination of the Belize Old River caused by the Mollejon dam. This newspaper assumes that most of our bottled water comes from the Belize Old River. The problem is not only mercury. There are problems with runoffs into the Belize Old River from pesticides, weed killers and fertilizers being employed upstream in large agricultural concerns.
When the big time journalists of the developed world come to Belize, they decry the absence of “investigate journalism” in Belize. At this newspaper, our experience is that such investigate journalism requires prohibitive levels of spending, apart from the dangers accompanying unauthorized probes into rich people’s business. In most cases, all the Belizean journalist can do is bring specific situations to the attention of the Belizean public and Belize’s government authorities, in the hope that public outcry will bring pressure on Belmopan.
But if these same rich people have inordinate influence on our elected government, mostly because of the non-existence of campaign financing legislation in Belize, the government will be slow or unwilling to react and investigate. What was true in the case of the nail factory more than four decades ago, appears to be true today. Belizean authorities believe Belize needs industrial investment more than we require environmental protection.
Let’s close with quotations from Diane Lewis’ article: “The amounts of these chemicals are small and often considered ‘acceptable,’ but scientists now know that they have a cumulative effect. Many chemicals that we use very casually … cause long-term health problems in ways that have only recently been understood. They ‘disrupt,’ or throw out of whack, the endocrine system, made up of glands and hormones that control almost every aspect of our bodily functions.”
“Endocrine disruptions are linked to an increased risk for breast and prostate cancer, thyroid abnormalities and infertility. The Endocrine Society papers and others also present evidence that links exposure to chemical contaminants to diabetes and obesity.”