mellowtigger: (the more you know)
[personal profile] mellowtigger
I was wrong. Well, maybe I'm still accurately remembering what I was told at the time, but what I believed is incorrect.

cotton bollsI remember visiting relatives in Knott, Texas, in the late 1970s or early 1980s and having to drink bottled water because the well water was poison. That happened with regularity, you see, during each drought. The sinking water table would bring contaminants with it until they reached a concentration that was too dangerous for people to ingest. I remembered it as being mercury contamination... but after my recent websurfing it seems now to have been arsenic instead.  Either element is plausible considering the source of the problem.

You see, people out there are cotton farmers. In order to harvest cotton with mechanical aid, you need the plants to die and turn crisp while holding their cotton bolls out high at the end of dead stalks where the machines can pluck them. To get all the plants to conveniently die at the same time across wide areas of land... they spray defoliants. Those chemicals contain arsenic (or mercury or other unpleasant substances). Repeat this process over decades, and you can see how poisons might accumulate in the topsoil and then get dragged down to groundwater as the underground "tide" (water table) recedes.

In other words, it's our own fault. "Our" meaning my family members... and our society at large for insisting on production that happens with less time, less effort, and less cost. Short-time cost, mind you. Long-term cost isn't part of the annual equation.
"During the 1990s, some 23 confirmed cases of elevated arsenic groundwater in Howard and Martin counties near the city of Knott have been attributed to point sources such as cotton gins, gin waste, gin trash, and hull pits, among other sources."
- http://www.texasep.org/html/wql/wql_3grw_agri.html
Not exactly.  My relatives weren't by the gins; they lived (and had their well) out in the cotton fields.  The ground accumulated arsenic, so the plants accumulated arsenic.  The whole system became toxic 3 decades ago, and yet they still have people out there farming cotton by spraying defoliant.

I also found a remarkable pdf file of a chart that details many sites of groundwater contamination in the state of Texas from 1976 to 2006. ( www.tceq.state.tx.us/assets/public/comm_exec/pubs/sfr/groundwater06/06-2.pdf ) It's a scary 120 pages of documentation about unhealthy groundwater. Most of it is gasoline, but if you search for the word "Knott" (the town (sort-of town, community really) where my relatives lived) you'll find references in both Martin and Howard counties with confirmed arsenic poisoning.  Only 3 of them are listed, not the 23 locations mentioned in the previous quote.
"Injudicious application of arsenical pesticides in agricultural fields has rendered soils with elevated levels of arsenic. This is particularly true for the cotton soils of Texas where background concentrations of arsenic are significantly higher than normal."
- http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2004AM/finalprogram/abstract_74981.htm
I can't find a reference at the moment, but supposedly this arsenic (and mercury?) remains part of the cotton fiber even after processing and is included in the shirt that you're wearing right now... unless you've already gone to organic products including your clothes.

Really, the Green Revolution can't happen fast enough for my sensibilities.

green vs green

Date: 2009-06-17 01:55 am (UTC)
ext_511859: (Default)
From: [identity profile] mojomike.livejournal.com
"the Green Revolution can't happen fast enough for my sensibilities."

ironically these chemical methods were originally called "The Green Revolution" themselves.. ^_^' (<-- sweatdrop)

mike

Date: 2009-06-17 02:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bearbarry.livejournal.com
Both mercury and arsenic cause neurological damage and can retard the intellectual development of children. Rural Texas and parts of the deep south are beginning to make more sense to me now.

Date: 2009-06-17 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nudewoody.livejournal.com
another reason not to wear clothes

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