Pollutants from pesticides to painkillers threaten key water sources in the Yucatan Peninsula, study says.
Chemicals ranging from personal hygiene products to cocaine are polluting the fresh, underground water resources in one of Mexico´s top tourism districts, a UN-backed study found.
Chemical runoff due to leaky sewage pipes, pit latrines and septic tanks are likely the sources of the flow of these chemicals into the underground water caves and streams in Riviera Maya. The area in the Caribbean Quintana Roo state is economically-driven by its tourism sector, which has boomed over the past three decades.
“Prevention and mitigation measures are needed to ensure that expanding development does not damage the marine environment and human health and, in turn, the region´s tourism-based economy,” said Chris Metcalfe, an environmental scientist at Canada´s Trent University and a research fellow at the United Nations University´s Institute for Water, Environment and Health.
In a paper published in the journal Environmental Pollution in February, Metcalfe and his team said the rapidly-growing development in the Riviera Maya to expand the tourism industry is leading to the contamination of groundwater resources, which flow into the Caribbean Sea.
The study´s findings “clearly underline the need for monitoring systems to pin-point where these aquifer pollutants are coming from,” said Metcalfe.
Pollutants detected included digested cocaine, pharmaceuticals such as painkillers, personal care products such as deodorant, perfume, and pesticides.
The trend poses a particular risk to the delicate ecosystem of Caribbean coral reefs, contributing to their deterioration, as they are already at risk from global warming.
“The principal reason [the contaminants seep in] is because the porous limestone bedrock of the Yucatan Peninsula allows contaminants to enter the aquifer, and the proximity of the Mesoamerican Reef System makes improper waste management a hazard to the health of both the community and the environment,” says Centro Ecologico Akumal, an environmental organization that monitors water quality in the area.
The Mesoamerican Reef is the second-largest in the world after the Great Barrier Reef.