Water, Water Everywhere, But Can We Drink it?
Viktor Schauberger, an Austrian naturalist, once said: "It is only nature which can and must be our teacher. We must try to understand how Mother Nature transforms water into the lifeblood of the planet and makes it available to us, pure and life-giving."
Good Housekeeping Magazine, not usually known for tackling controversial issues, said "Every time you turn on your faucet, you are committing an act of faith. You believe the water you give your child to drink, the water with which you cook and wash your food, is fit for human use. Don't take it for granted!"
The May 1-May 15 issue of Hawaii Island Journal presented information on water use in Hawaii. The next three Healing Island columns will focus on water quality in general, Big Island water quality in specific and measures we may take to insure that the water we use is as pure as it can be.
When my 13-year-old son asked me what I was writing about, I told him that this column was about the necessity of water to sustain life. His reply was, "Duh, so what else is new?" What seems so evident to a child must be of less relevance to humans, given the rate at which we are destroying the elements that we need for survival on the planet.
Volumes can be written about the functions and uses of water in the human body. Humans can live for weeks without food, but can only survive for five days without approximately four and a half pounds of water a day. Nearly 80 percent of the average adult body is comprised of water. As little as 15 percent water loss will cause death. Water controls body temperature, digestion, assimilation and efficiency of circulation. Poor water quality or inadequate intake of water can result in loss of energy, loss of coordination, back pain, neck pain, headaches, aching joints and muscles and degenerative diseases.
Water is the number one solvent the body uses to dissolve and eliminate wastes. Five million people die annually from water-borne diseases. The World Health Organization states that 60 to 90 percent of human tumors are environmentally produced and 80 percent of world illnesses would be eliminated by drinking a sufficient amount of pure water.
There is a startling increase in the cancer rate in the past half-decade. There is direct correlation between the increase in environmental pollution, particularly as regards Air, Water and Earth, and the increase in the cancer rate. Three of Chinese Medicine's five pillars of health are under direct assault. Only Fire and Ether remain to be tampered with.
The importance of preserving water quality is decades old. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 established health standards for contaminants in drinking water. Almost 30 years later, the law is still not serving the purpose for which it was created. Through intensive lobbying, chronic industrial and agricultural polluters have taken the teeth out of the legislation, handcuffing the Environmental Protection Agency from developing and implementing standards for water quality as directed by the Law. A complicating fact is that over 70,000 chemicals are currently used in our society and over 1,000 new ones are being introduced each year. Catching up, let alone enforcing water quality standards poses challenges of surreal proportions. In 1992 and 1993 alone there were an estimated 230,000 violations of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Scientists state that the Earth is losing its ability to regenerate: pollution is no longer totally remedied by dilution.
Causes of water contamination are as numerous as the contaminants themselves. On the mainland, there are more sources of water pollution than there are in Hawaii, but the contaminants in Hawaii water are no less dangerous to our health.
Mainland residents have to deal with lead contamination, which causes permanent and irreversible damage to the nervous systems of small children. They also deal with industrial carcinogens like TCE, benzene, toluene and xylene.
Chlorine, which is added to both mainland and Hawaii water to control bacteria, has been determined to be a contributing factor to the sharp increase in the incidence of cancer over the past century. I'll discuss this in greater detail in the next Healing Island column.
Agriculture, as the single largest user of freshwater on a global basis. Agricultural chemicals are the single greatest cause of degradation of surface and groundwater resources through erosion and chemical runoff. The associated agrifood-processing industry is also a significant source of organic pollution in most countries.
In Hawaii, pesticides and herbicides used primarily in the sugar industry are the most harmful of all organic chemicals and are the main source of decreased water quality. When sprayed on agricultural fields, these chemicals seep into the ground, contaminating our groundwater and with each rainfall run off into our surface water supplies. Groundwater contamination is a significant concern in Hawaii because nearly all of its drinking water comes from groundwater sources.
The State of Hawaii has published on its web site groundwater contamination maps for all of the islands. The Big Island maps indicate detectable levels of a number of chemicals, including atrazine, desethyl atrazine, despropyl atrazine, diamino atrazine, hexazinone and simazine. I will discuss these chemicals and the challenges they pose to our health in the next Healing Island column. You can also look them up on the internet yourself.