The world knows Mexico for its incredible beaches, festive drinks, spicy cuisines, and colorful celebrations. Modern Mexico has added one more identity to them ‘A WATER POLLUTION.’
Mexico has been fighting water pollution for a long time. It has been calling for an urgent program to overcome the water supply crisis to its population until 2030.
In 2015, 500 thousand residents of the Mexican city of Villahermosa lost access to drinking water due to the ingress of oil products into local rivers.
Only 6% of surface water bodies were considered uncontaminated in that year, while 73% showed contamination, and 20% were classified as acceptable.
Similarly, in 2019, the most significant water pollution problems occurred in the Valley of Mexico and the Cutzamala System, followed by the Baja California peninsula.
Water pollution can lead to infectious intestinal diseases; In 2019, these diseases were the 6th leading cause of 353 deaths of children in Mexico.
Water pollution appears as the most problematic situation for Mexico that has affected the country financially.
Table of Contents
As in everything that affects the most precious natural resources, the human being and his intervention in nature are mainly responsible for water pollution.
You have to know that only 3% of the water on the planet is freshwater.
However, purification mechanisms, such as purification or desalination, help water consumption, the most urgent thing to avoid contamination.
Water contamination is increasing day by day in the whole world. The significant causes of water pollution in Mexico are:
Every year millions of cubic liters of wastewater from municipal, industrial, domestic and agricultural discharges are disposed into water sources that are inadequately treated or without any treatment.
In Mexico, wastewater discharges are classified as municipal (urban and rural public supply) and non-municipal (other uses such as self-supplied industry).
According to official figures, 52.7% of the municipal water and 32% of the non-municipal water are treated in Mexico.
Although there is progress, it is still insufficient. An undetermined volume of contaminated water is not collected, lost in the drainage networks, or illegally discharged directly into the environment.
It is estimated that in 2015 the economic cost of pollution caused by untreated wastewater was 57,403 million pesos, equivalent to 0.3% of gross domestic product.
2. Urban and household pollution
Large amounts of garbage are produced daily in all cities and communities of Mexico. This garbage includes waste from houses, schools, markets, offices, and all the activities performed daily.
A good part of the garbage produced in the communities is collected and taken to Municipal landfills. These landfills are generally located on the outskirts of cities.
Although collecting garbage is the first step, if the areas where it is disposed of are not well managed, contamination will continue to be a problem, as liquids from the garbage or rain could carry pollutants to nearby or underground water sources.
The garbage thrown into the streets also represents another source of contamination; since the rains can wash it towards the rivers or other sources of water.
The lack of sanitation of wastewater contributes to worsening the scenario.
In Mexico, the government treats only 33% of municipal wastewater and 15% of industrial and agricultural water.
Most of this waste untreated water is discharged into rivers, seas, and water resources that supply the population.
3. Sewage water
One of Mexico’s most troubling problems is the drainage system, which often directs household waste into rivers, lakes, beaches, and other aquatic ecosystems.
It has destroyed reefs, wetlands, and mangroves. The absence of strict regulations on wastewater treatment has affected thousands of animal species.
An example of this is Xochimilco, a site located southeast of Mexico City that has more than 140 aquatic species fundamental to the Mexican fauna and which is being affected, among other things, by domestic drainage in river beds and beaches.
4. Industrial contamination
Many industries need large amounts of clean water in their production processes or as part of their products, and others use it in cleaning and cooling processes.
Similarly, some industries dispose of water with chemical residues such as colorants, detergents, and others contaminate water sources.
Hydrocarbons, detergents, wastewater, plastics, and other solid waste flow in rivers and seas; many of them end up being ingested by animals or tiny marine organisms.
Industrial growth in Mexico has reinvigorated the economy. However, it also has serious consequences for the environment: e.g., the pollution of the rivers near the port city of Coatzacoalcos by the petrochemical industry, so that fish and birds, insects, and plants die.
Humans also ingest toxins through the water. In addition, acid rain from industrial fumes falls over the Yucatan, endangering some Mayan sites.
5. Agricultural pollution and Livestock contamination
If agriculture is not managed correctly, it can directly affect the availability of water sources.
On the one hand, there is a growing demand for farmland, which has caused more and more forests to be cut to get farmland. This action directly contaminated water in rivers, lakes, and other water sources.
For decades, deciduous and coniferous forests have been rigorously cleared for agricultural use, but also illegally. The deciduous and tropical forests were cleared: around 100 years ago, more than 70% of Mexico’s area was forest; today, only 33.3% of the country is green.
Significant problems arise with this enormous deforestation: vast areas of erosion arise, the groundwater level sinks, extreme climates become more frequent, there is a water shortage in the cities, lakes dry up, land develops into steppes, animals lose their habitat.
Similarly, Xochimilco swamp condition is deteriorating day by day. Refugio Rodriguez Vázquez, an activist and biotechnology professor at Mexico’s Instituto Politecnico Nacional, began studying Xochimilco in 2016.
Refugio Vázquez says that the toxic mixture of agrochemicals coming from runoff and wastewater from terrestrial and floating farms is mainly responsible for the water pollution of this swamp.
Wastewater is discharged from El Cerro de la Estrella into three smaller treatment plants within a radius of 20 kilometers. It ends up in the canals at an alarming rate of 2,000 liters per second. It’s enough to fill a pool 2.5 meters deep, 75 centimeters wide, and 1 meter long in one second.
The situation is so serious that clean water and deforestation are national security issues in Mexico.
6. Oil Spills
Oil spills and their derivatives cause pollution in various parts of the planet.
This oil spill will also seriously affect the marine ecosystem, generating the poisoning of its flora and fauna and its death in many cases.
An accidental explosion at the Deepwater Horizon in April 2010 oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico spread 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean.
The accident threatened the wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico and threatened to pollute hundreds of miles of coastline.
In three months, during which crude oil poured from a well at a depth of 1.5 km into the Gulf of Mexico, the oil film covered thousands of square kilometers.
A total of 4.9 million barrels of oil fell into the sea. They collected 800 thousand barrels, about 265 thousand that rose to the surface were burned. More than 8 million liters of chemicals were sprayed over the sea.
More than 120 bird species have been affected by the oil spill. Bird watchers speak of thousands of individuals.
More than half of them died due to feather contamination. American brown pelicans, which dive into the water for fish, suffered the hardest.
A large number of dolphins died after this accident. In the first breeding season of dolphins after the accident, the number of dead cubs found on the shore increased sharply.
7. Cigarette Butts
Factors such as Plastic straws and plastic shopping bags are causing more water pollution.
However, pollution sources have bypassed regulations while causing a more significant plastic problem- the cigarette butt.
Cigarette butts containing plastic filters are the most discarded in Mexico and the world.
Tobacco filters are often thought to be made of biodegradable materials, but in reality, they use a type of plastic, cellulose acetate, which can take up to 10 years to decompose.
About 6 trillion cigarettes are manufactured in a year. More than 90% of them contain plastic filters, corresponding to more than 1 million tons of plastic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the most common dumping of garbage as the dumping of cigarette butts, and about two-thirds of the butts are irresponsibly dumped.
Some studies indicate that in Mexico, more than 4 billion cigarette butts end up on the floors of cities; In Mexico City alone, 3 out of 10 people are smokers, and approximately 65% of the cigarette butts they generally end up on the ground.
Aware of the negative impact on the environment and on people’s health that this implies, in September 2019, the deputy of the Green Party, Alessandra Rojo de la Vega, presented an initiative before the Congress of Mexico City to sanction with a fine of up to 25 thousand pesos those who throw cigarette butts in the street.
The proposal also establishes obligations for commercial establishments and government offices, such as placing containers to deposit butts outside or in places intended for smoking. If they do not do so, there would also be a penalty that could reach 168 thousand 980 pesos.
8. Increase in Hotel and Restaurants/Multinational companies construction
New hotels and restaurants have become a major attraction for tourists. However, the construction rush is damaging the environment.
Due to these developments, water-filled sinkholes and cenotes caves are becoming more polluted.
According to Mexico’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, about 80% of the 6,000 cenotes on the Yucatan Peninsula are polluted.
Part of the problem is the destruction of mangroves during the construction rush. Mangroves act like natural filters to keep pollutants out.
Without mangroves, pollutants such as sewage, chemicals, and excrement will spill into waterways.
Such pollutants can enter the groundwater system and spread to the sea. Construction rushes are also damaging them by destroying the natural habitats of wildlife such as sea turtles.
A United Nations University study reported that the watershed in the Riviera Maya area of Mexico is contaminated with painkiller chemicals and illegal drugs such as cocaine, residues of personal care products such as deodorant cosmetics, and toothpaste, and spilled chemicals.
9. Water Liberalization
Nine million Mexicans do not have the primary facility to safe drinking water. The situation is worsening in the country. In 50 years, the availability of water per capita in Mexico has fallen by 64%.
In particular, the liberalization of the water market introduced in 1992, which made possible the sale of national waters to private companies or individuals in the form of concessions, is the major problem.
This liberalization brought the private sector into managing municipal water and sanitation systems.
And economic sectors that are very greedy for this resource, such as the bottled water, soda, or beer industry, now have significant concessions, some of which are located in risk areas.
Coca-Cola has the right to extract 33.7 million m3 of water per year in Mexico, the equivalent of the minimum annual consumption to support 20,000 people.
The American group exploits 50 bodies of water, 15 of which are overexploited.
On a smaller scale, the Swiss company Nestle extracts 9 million m3 of water per year and exploits 16 aquifers, 6 of which are overexploited.
The mining industry has an even more significant impact like oil and gas extraction. It consumes millions of liters of water daily.
The Los Filos gold mine in the southern state of Guerrero uses 418.8 million every day just for leaching, a process in which tons of mined minerals are sprayed with water and sodium cyanide to separate gold from detritus.
Thanks to the North American free trade agreements (NAFTA), the Canadian company was established. The use of toxic products such as cyanide severely impacts the environment and populations.
These excesses are also associated with many incidents, such as the accidental spill of 40,000 m3 of copper sulfate in the Sonora River in August 2014 in the country’s north, whose waters turned orange for more than 150 kilometers afterward.
Hydroelectric power generation also, by definition, requires water. The multiplication of concessions granted to this sector crystallizes social tensions: the construction of dams disrupts the ecosystem of rivers. It can flood hundreds of hectares of habitable and cultivable land.
Twenty-one watersheds were heavily contaminated in 2009 (out of 1,471 in Mexico).
The National Water Commission ( Conagua ) recorded arsenic, pesticides, hydrocarbons, heavy metals, pharmaceutical and antibiotic components, and bacteria.
The mining activity that is regularly responsible for accidental spills of chemicals in rivers originates from the dispersion of heavy metals caused by explosions with dynamite.
10. Climate Change
Climate change, such as rising water temperature, drought, and heavy rain, which have been increasing rapidly in recent years, is the cause of water pollution.
At present, there are reports that the water temperature has not dropped sufficiently due to the effects of global warming.
The abnormal occurrence of blue-green algae in lakes and marshes and deterioration of water quality due to a decrease in oxygen concentration in the bottom layer of the water are also the causes for high water temperature.
For example, the pollutants that leave the cities, fall into the Mississippi River, and reach the Gulf of Mexico are stimulating the growth of marine algae that are depriving an area of some 14,000 square kilometers of oxygen, creating an environment incapable of supporting aquatic life.
Scientists backed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported in August 2021 that the Gulf of Mexico dead zone is more prominent than initially predicted, with more than 16,000 square kilometers.
Regarding the effects of climate change, India and Mexico opened the academic workshop Water, Climate Change and Disasters, the first event of the recently formed Alliance of Mexican-Indian Geoscientific Opportunities (AMIGOs).
The workshop highlighted that on the list of the dreaded day zero –the day without water available– are Mexico City and Indian cities like Bangalore and Chennai.
Water pollution is not the only problem of Mexico but the whole world. The causes listed above are not the causes seen and observed in Mexico only. Necessary prevention and treatment plans must be implemented soon, or the result will be disastrous.
(Last Updated on May 4, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)