According to the Yucatan Times, a number of cenotes, or sink holes that expose underground rivers, are fouled enough to even be linked to skin cancer. Some cenotes are tourist attractions, while others are swimming holes enjoyed by the locals.
Shabby waste-disposal practices, from households disposing of dirty diapers, to golf courses attempting green fairways, have fouled this beautiful peninsula.
We all accept the fact that we can’t drink the water or cook with it, but we swim, shower and launder our clothes in city water which comes from aquifers, one of the peninsula’s great natural gifts. Reverse osmosis systems, popular in home renovations, remove a wide array of contaminants but it does not remove all chemicals. The water table is vulnerable to seepage from any chemicals that hit the ground surface, whether it’s machine oil in streets and factories or fertilizer in the fields. The city has no proper storm drainage system, just grated catch basins dug into the streets, leading filthy rain water into holding tanks, from which the rain water, mixed with surface pollution, is allowed to seep into the ground. There is no sewer system, just a series of septic tanks.
A United Nations report published in May says that the region’s unique geology, composed of highly permeable limestone deposits, is highly susceptible to contamination.
Since the 1990s, it is believed that land based sources of pollution such as discharge of (untreated) sewage and wastewater, along with overfishing, coral disease, and climate change, may have contributed to the loss of up to 50% of corals on the reefs along the region’s coast, according to Harvell et al. (2007). With a 10-fold increase in population expected by 2030, the problems are likely to worsen.
This study suggests that contamination originates from illegal and legal drugs and personal care products from domestic sewage; Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons from highway runoff and pesticides used on golf courses. Improved regulation and monitoring were urged, not just to protect the ground water but the coral reefs and other natural features. The U.N. study’s authors said they were encouraged that following the study’s release, the National Water Commission (CONAGUA) of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) responded with action plans to address this problem.
The drinking water supply is always in question in New York as well. Pharmaceuticals have been detected in our water supply, and even genderless fish have resulted from hormones that somehow have leeched into the rivers and streams. Last weekend, I stayed at a guest house upstate, where natural beauty abounds. The Hudson River. The Catskills. And the Indian Point nuclear power plant.
In the end, there is no escaping ecological concerns.