Contaminated Aquifers, Cause for Alarm / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang
Posted on July 28, 2015
Cubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 23 July 2015 – Although they
have not been properly disclosed, in spite of their great importance,
numerous studies carried out repeatedly by teams of Cuban scientists
have raised the alarm about the critical state of Cuba's main aquifers.
The detection of high levels of lead and other heavy metals harmful to
human health in lakes and reservoirs intended for human use and for work
related to agriculture and fisheries suggest that this could be one of
the main causes for the increase among the Cuban population of cancer
and other illnesses related to prolonged exposure to toxic substances.
While the phenomenon afflicts all the country's provinces, Havana is the
region most affected because, first, it is surrounded by several
landfills capable of leaking highly toxic elements into underground
waters that feed sources destined to supply the capital; and, second,
most industries do not comply with international norms for the treatment
of wastes and the filtering of harmful gas emissions, and they even
discharge wastes directly into river basins like the Almendares, which
crosses the capital and whose waters are used on farmlands.
A study published in 2013 conducted by a team of specialists from the
Laboratory of Environmental Analysis, part of Cuba's Higher Institute of
Applied Technologies and Sciences, reported the levels of highly toxic
substances in the soils of and produce grown on 17 farms dedicated to
urban agriculture, all located within two kilometers of the 100th Street
landfill to the west of the capital.
According to the research, the soil of half the farms exceeded the
ranges at which heavy metals, like lead, are usually found in Cuban
agricultural soils, while a high percentage exceeded levels considered
toxic according to some international standards. Similarly, 12.5 per
cent of the vegetable samples collected exceeded the maximum permissible
limits of this contaminant in foods intended for human consumption
established by Cuban regulation NC 493 of 2006.
One of the areas that most worries those who are familiar with this
phenomenon, about which nothing is said in the official press outlets,
is the Ejercito Rebelde dam, built in 1976 south of the capital and
considered one of the largest stores of "potable water" in the western
Surrounded by highly polluting industries like the steelmaker Antillana
de Acero and giant dumps like Cotorro, the lake has been singled out by
several scientific groups as a danger to human health since analyses of
its sediments as well as of its flora and fauna have revealed lethal
concentrations of heavy metals and other harmful substances.
In spite of the released warnings – almost always by digital academic
publications of limited circulation – state fishing cooperatives that
sell their products in the capital's markets continue to operate there,
while the regional authorities do very little to prevent the area's
inhabitants from coming to fish, swim or wash cars at the banks of the
The oil stains and countless accumulations of rubbish that surround the
dam speak for themselves of the government's lack of control and the
ignorance of the people about the danger to which they are exposed.
A scientific study from 2005 had already detected high levels of lead,
zinc, cadmium and copper in the so-called "Almendares-Vento" basin as
well as at the Ejercito Rebelde dam.
In its report, the team of analysts from Cuba's Higher Institute of
Applied Technologies and Sciences explained that such levels of
contamination were due, in large measure, "to inadequate
hygienic-sanitary coverage and industrialization without regard to
protective measures for the environment."
In order to have an idea of how terrible it could be now as well as in
the future just for Havana, the Almendares-Vento watershed (which also
includes the Ejercito Rebelde dam), provides almost half of all the
potable water that the city's populace consumes and a good part of its
food. The heavy metals are extremely toxic even in relatively low
concentrations, they are not biodegradable, and, to the contrary, they
accumulate through the food chain.
To understand the gravity of the situation – both because of the
discharged contaminants in our waters and the authorities' willingness
to conceal or disinterest in the matter – it suffices to refer to the
body of research that, although carried out by Cuban institutions and
experts, almost exclusively circulates outside of the island in foreign
digital scientific media, while domestic publications keep their
distance from what already constitutes a real silent tragedy.
Tables and info-graphics from several studies of the aquifers of Havana
and the San Juan and Cobre rivers in Santiago de Cuba, among others,
show the accumulation levels of heavy metals comparable to heavily
industrialized areas of Europe. Chemical contaminants have also been
found in species captured in the Guancanayabo Gulf and at the
Hanabanilla dam in Villa Clara. Investigations by the Metallurgical
Mining Institute of Holguin also have detected elevated concentrations
of sulfates, nickel, chromium, manganese and iron in the groundwater of Moa.
Source: Contaminated Aquifers, Cause for Alarm / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez
Chang | Translating Cuba -