Santa Fe New Mexican
WHAT WE DO TO WATER WE DO TO OURSELVES
In 2012, three artists/activists/citizen scientists walked the length of the Santa Fe River, from the upper watershed to the river’s confluence with the Rio Grande at Cochiti Pueblo. We gathered water samples along the five-day, 54-mile walk, carefully labeling each bottle with the location and date. Later we learned that the samples that we hoped would be tested for chemicals, pharmaceuticals and more, were not viable.
This then was a largely symbolic act. But it led me to continue learning what, exactly, might be in our water.
In early 2018, Patrick Longmire presented the results of a New Mexico Environment Department study to the members of the Santa Fe River Traditional Community Collaborative. The Environment Department analyzed samples from the city of Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Los Alamos National Laboratory, White Rock and Española sewage treatment plants, as well the Rio Grande at Otowi Bridge, Mortandad Canyon and the Santa Fe River. Treated sewage (wastewater) reenters our rivers and seeps into our aquifers.
Following are those found in the greatest volume (there were other chemicals not listed below in trace amounts):
Santa Fe: sulfamethoxaole (an antibiotic), carbomazepine (treatment for bipolar disorder and seizures), iopromide (a contrast agent used in radiographic studies).
Los Alamos: sulfamethoxazole, carbomazepine, Dilantin (one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the U.S. for mood disorders, abnormal heart rhythms and seizures), gemifibrozil (cholesterol), DEET.
Los Alamos National Laboratory (surface and groundwater): Caffeine, acetaminophen
White Rock: caffeine, Dilantin, methadone, sulfamethoxazole, DEET
Española: methadone, caffeine, Dilantin Rio Grande at Mortandad: sulfamethoxazole, acetaminophen, carbomazepine
Santa Fe River at Tetilla Peak: sulfamethoxazole
How do these contaminants get into our water supply? Our bodies absorb approximately 2 percent to 5 percent of the drugs we ingest. The rest ends up in our waste and thus, at the sewage treatment plant. DEET and other personal care products enter the waste stream when we wash. Municipal sewage treatment plants and septic systems were never designed to remove these contaminants.
According to the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in the United States. Each year, an estimated 2,000 new ones are introduced for use in food, personal care products, prescription drugs, household cleaners and lawn care products.
The effects of many of these chemicals on our health is unknown, yet we are exposed to them daily, as they become pollutants in our air, water and soil. (ntp.niehs. nih.gov/pubhealth/impact/index.html)
Other sources of contaminants are national laboratories, mining, dumps, spills, industrial sites, etc.
Our drinking water comes from surface and groundwater: the Rio Grande, the Buckman Wells (near the Rio Grande), other wells and the Santa Fe River. While our city does a good job of monitoring our water, it rarely has the means to test for any of the substances listed above, never mind filtering them out.
What can we do?
Information is power. We all contribute to the contaminant load. But we can investigate the problems and create solutions together.
Bioremediation (plant- and mushroombased filtering systems) have been successfully used in the U.S., Canada, China and South Africa (www.toddecological.com). Myco-remediation is under consideration by LANL to clean up the toxic hexavalent chromium plume threatening water in the Los Alamos area. Fungi create more than 120 enzymes that can break down toxins such as PCBs, petroleum products, pesticides and other contaminants.
“We are of water and water is of us. When water is threatened all living beings are threatened. What we do to water, we do to ourselves.” — from the Hopi Declaration of Water, 2003
Bobbe Besold is a Santa Fe artist working in all media and is an advocate for water. She writes here for the Santa Fe River Traditional Community Collaborative. This is one in a series of articles about the Santa Fe Watershed.