I raised my children in the South-West of British Columbia because of the green mountains, pristine water and clean air. In the last ten years, I have witnessed every village lose their water to industry, face a crisis of bacteria or parasites, have to build costly filtration plants, and to top it off, add deadly chlorine. The summer of 1997 in the Slocan Valley was a long and hot one. We were losing our watersheds to corporate logging and many people were arrested. My eleven year old daughter and I made a stand at the New Denver Flats, believing that it wasn't worth losing our water for the sake of 19 days worth of lumber at the mill. Neither environmentalist, nor anti-logger, we stood as mother and daughter for the sake of life itself. I refused to sign the undertaking of my release and spent 55 days in jail fasting on broth. We found out that corporations have more rights to water than citizens. We were virtually powerless in our endeavor; our laws are designed for economics, profits are more important than the health of a nation. Later, I learned that our Ministry of Forest loses so much money that we, the taxpayers, are paying to have our watersheds logged. Nothing makes sense anymore.
On May 8th, 1998, with the help of many people in my valley, I began the Trans-Canada WATERWALK at mile 0 in Victoria. It was a pilgrimage to raise awareness about the conditions of our water and to give a voice to ordinary citizens to 'walk their talk', and tell their stories. It took seven months and ended in October. Four courageous people walked into Ottawa with me on the last leg of my journey. That same week, ten thousand people gathered for gun control. We were so intimidated on Parliament Hill by the police that my little daughter stated: "Mom, I hate this place, I never want to come back here again."
I set off with a certain measure of innocence, believing we still had plenty of pure water left in Canada. Nothing prepared me for what I saw, heard or experienced. From sea to shinning sea, we have contaminated our water, air and earth to such an extent that we are experiencing sickness, mutations and the death of many species. We are drinking and bathing in chemical brews; no present day filters can get rid of all the toxins. A 100 pounds person soaking in a bathtub for 1 hour absorbs 1 pound of water. We don't only breathe Oxygen but drink and soak in it. I collected water samples and divided them into categories:
Water is the bloodline of industry. It's solvent, cleansing and cooling qualities make manufacturing possible. It takes 120,000 liters of water to fabricate the steel and plastic to make one car. Thousands more liters are involved in the manufacture of plastics, glass and fabric components. It's not how much water we use, but rather what we add to it that accumulates and combines with other molecules downstream to form compounds that causes cancer and disease in organisms.
DAMS AND ELECTRICITY
Waterways fill in the cracks of the earth and run on fault lines, they buffer and absorb earthquake vibration. Damming the rivers adds pressure to these fault lines and severs the natural flow of silt and nutrients. The fish die-off because they are starved and cannot return to their original spawning grounds. Most of the Salmon Runs in B.C. are bordering on extinction. Dams destroy lush fertile grounds, fishing, farming and recreation that once sustained a community. When you put all the Hydro companies together, you get the largest corporation in the world with the biggest land grab in history: waterfront property. Electrical transformers contain PCBs and many have been dumped in waterways and landfills. This is such a deadly chemical that one gram of PCBs can render one billion liters of water unsuitable for aquatic life.
The good news is that mining uses the least amount of water of all industries because it recycles a lot. The bad news is that the mine tailings that are left over form a thick toxic sludge of finely crushed metals concentrates: mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium, copper, zinc and more. This is put into holding ponds, sometimes close to waterways and roads. Over the years, with rain or erosion, the heavy metals leech into the ground water. During the hot dry season, I have noticed the wind blowing this dust onto surface water. One gram of lead in 20,000 liters of water can make it unfit for drinking. Uranium mining in Northern Saskatchewan has destroyed a network of lakes. Northern Ontario suffered similar mining consequences - some of my worst samples come from there.
LOGGING AND PULP MILLS
Trees are water reservoirs and natural filters that man cannot duplicate. They are the lungs of the planet, and yet, we have wiped out 3/4 of the trees on earth. Once the canopy is broken; sunlight penetrates and dries up the earth, wind corridors are created that cause more trees to blow down. During the ice storm in Quebec, forest with intact canopies were 20% affected, while planted forest or solitary trees were 80% destroyed. Roots are the canopy of the ground; their capillary process of exchanging, filtering and storing water is a massive network that matures our water like a fine wine. Road building and heavy equipment compacts the soil and and cuts the landscape, causing streams to break down and more erosion to dirty the water. Massive pulp and paper mills still dominate the countryside; they have polluted the water and air to such an extent that our children can no longer swim in lakes and rivers. In Kamloops, caribou died drinking downstream and the salmon are bordering extinction. The Mills are cleaning up their act, but toxic residues like mercury are still visible in the fish, animals and people. Grassy Narrows Reserve in Ontario and the Sagkeen in Manitoba are prime examples of a sickness that doesn't go away; from blindness to three generations in one house all in wheelchairs telling you not to eat the fish.
OIL AND GAS
Often water samples had oil slicks floating on the surface, or were just putrid and black, as in Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. Deep oil wells and leaky gas tanks can contaminate ground water sources. Oil spreads so much that one drop can render 25 liters of water unfit for drinking. Oil spills from rigs or ships off our coastlines demonstrate how lethal it can be. Walking along the Trans-Canada pipeline in B.C. and Western Ontario was quite scary. You could feel a vibratory hum from within the earth; when I approached a connection station, I could smell gas from miles away.
Anywhere the Ministry of Defense located itself and practiced their war games is a potentially hazardous site. Many experiments were conducted using deadly substances: nuclear and radio-active explosives, chemical and biological warfare, and more. During the anti-bomb era, people protested across the country, but they continued on their agenda with a complete disregard for the land where they buried or left their waste. Now, town sites are facing irreparable damage to their ground water. Caught in the fervor of defending their 'territory', fighting the 'enemy' ; they unknowingly poisoned themselves and their own community.
Pinewawa, Manitoba and Chalk River, Ontario were two nuclear laboratories we passed that have had toxic spills with soil and water contamination. We watched for the plume of deadly radioactive material floating down the Ottawa River on our way in, due to arrive in our capital by springtime. We were not welcome in these places, but as soon as you got beyond the periphery, people were buzzing with hair-raising stories. Nobody swims or eats the fish anymore. There was an environmental outcry because Canada agreed to recycle nuclear waste from other countries at Chalk River. When I questioned the Ministry of Environment, they just threw their hands up in the air. They were busy with a program that taught Brazilian children responsibility for the earth by putting their thumb print on the walls of their classroom. According to 1986 statistics, conventional and nuclear power plants use more than 60% of the total Canadian water intake for industry. Production of 1 kilowatt of electricity requires 140 liters of water for fossil fuel plants, and 205 liters for nuclear plants. Some of the water gets converted to steam, but most is used for condenser cooling. Only 40% of the fuel's energy goes into usable electricity. This is the most inefficient and toxic way of making power that ever existed. They excrete their warm water into waterways, and the heat is contributing to the destruction of ecosystems and climate.
Of the almost 10 million chemicals known today, approximately 100,000 are used commercially. Over 10,000 new chemicals are created each week. They are directly discharged into our waterways as waste by manufacturers, farmers and householders. Many are water soluble, which means that it disperses and travels; in other words, poison poured into a stream can affect a lake, a river and an ocean. For example, the Great Lakes are considered chemical hot spots: The Ministry of Water identified 360 chemical compounds and admitted that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Many are persistent and toxic poisons, causing tumors and lesions in fish; and precious species have disappeared forever. The St. Lawrence and the Fraser River are also seriously contaminated. Chemical farming uses nitrates and fertilizers promoting excessive algae bloom and large aquatic plants that can strangle a lake.
PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES, FUNGICIDES
As they say on the label, they are designed to kill. In the area of Lethbridge, Alberta, farmers import 20,000 kg of 2,4-D every year. Now, they are finding it in the rain and tap water, and one gram of this toxin can contaminate 10,000,000 liters of drinking water. Farmers and ranchers spray a fine mist from the air and the prairie winds carry these deadly poisons everywhere - all the animal watering holes are laced with it. Air currents can travel far - scientists found pesticides from Asia in Lake Superior, and even our glaciers are affected. Parks, schools, hospitals, roadsides, clear cuts, railway tracks and all the ways to our homes and gardens are continuously being sprayed. Nobody knows the long term effect of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, but they do know it has cancer causing properties, can mimic diseases in mankind such as Multiple Sclerosis and more. Saskatchewan had the highest infant mortality rate in Canada and the greatest concentration of Multiple Sclerosis in North America. Who wants to buy wheat from that breadbasket?
ANIMAL AND HUMAN FECES
Municipal sewage legislation in Victoria, B.C., allows sewage treatment plants to discharge secondary waste into any body of water: ocean, lake or stream. The Capital city sets the precedence for the rest of the Province. Right across our country animal feces from large farms are major contaminants, many times literally ruining a town's water supply. The deaths in Walkerton, Ontario brought this theme into the limelight, but I had already witnessed similar tragedies.
I was informed that they found pharmaceutical drugs in the Assiniboine River, near Brandon, Manitoba. German scientists report that anywhere from 30 to 60 drugs can be measured in a typical European water sample. Pharmaceutical drugs given to people and domestic animals (of which 50-90% is excreted unchanged) can range from antibiotics to hormones, painkillers to anti-depressants, tranquilizers to chemotherapy agents. Many drugs have been measured in surface water, ground water and tap water. Hospital septic tanks, health care industries and feed lots are the major source of these problems. In Europe: the Danube, the Po River and the entire North Sea contains Clofibric acid (CA), a drug used to lower cholesterol levels, to give you an idea of how far one thing can spread. Another problem with these drugs in our environment is bacteria developing a resistance to antibiotics. Again, nobody knows the bio-accumulative long term effect. Maybe three-legged frogs are telling us something, and there were plenty of those, especially in Manitoba and Ontario.
PARASITES AND BACTERIA
Bacterial infections by Campylobacter, Shigella and Salmonella, as well as viruses, cause very serious outbreaks that can compromise the health of an entire community. The Walkerton and North Battleford tragedies are recent symbols of how vulnerable we can be, and are a sign of things to come. There are various parasites, but the most prominent are Giardia and Cryptosporidium. You can treat Giardia with drugs, but there is no known treatment for Cryptosporidium. These are intestinal illnesses that debilitate our immune system. In Princeton, B.C., 88% of the population caught 'Beaver Fever' or Giardia. In Thunder Bay, Ontario, there were warning signs posted for pregnant women and children not to drink the water for the same reasons. In Kelowna, an estimated 10,000 people became ill from Cryptosporidiosis; almost every lake we crossed in Northern Ontario had the parasite. Boil Water Advisories are becoming standard procedures across Canada, a country that was once proud of it's fresh waters. In Long Lac, Ontario, children showed us the holes in their skin from flesh eating parasites. Nearby lakes were totally infested with tiny wriggling white thread worms.
Swan Hills, Alberta will probably be recognized as one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history. It is a chemical dump site; a mixture of toxic brews and persistent fires, vaporizing into the air and seeping into the ground water. It is constantly going bankrupt because nobody can contain the disaster. Hazardous waste disposal is impossible, insane and very costly. Many companies won't pay the exorbitant fees, and end up pouring their waste down the drain. Cities, overwhelmed by their own garbage, are transporting it hundreds of kilometers away to dump in old mine sites or in other rural areas. Nothing can guarantee the safety of these procedures. The earth is a living, vibrant entity that moves, cracks and grinds everything to a fine dust that cultivates life; nothing buried is spared this process, and our priority should be to stop creating these chemical monsters.
Filtration and chemicalization of drinking water have many drawbacks: it is extremely costly, doesn't eliminate certain diseases or parasites, has a bad aroma and taste, but worst of all, there is a long list the side effects. When any of the four halogens --Fluorine, Chlorine, Bromine and Iodine-- are combined with carbon from organic matte, they produce dangerous compounds such as PCB's, DDT's, chlorofluorocarbons and much more. The body stores most of these chemicals in fatty tissue, they bio-accumulate and become cancer precursors. Under the guise of Biological Warfare, the Nazis concluded that Chlorine gas in large amounts kills, and in small amounts, it can be hypnotic and open people's minds to suggestion. Even though it blocks our Oxygen intake and has mutagenic properties, it remains the cheapest and most widely used disinfectant on the planet. I wonder why? Fluoridation will probably become renowned as the scam of the century.