Intelligence Watch | Threatened water
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Threatened water

From space, Earth appears as a blue planet, but about one billion people are forced to drink contaminated water, while another 2.3 billion are suffering from water shortages. The water is, together with the air, one of our most important resources, and in 2010 the UN declared it as a human right. However, it is being misused, contaminated, polluted and distributed unfairly.

When the world’s business leaders and policy makers at the summit in Davos in 2015 ranked the 28 largest social and economic risks the coming decade water crisis came in the first place, before war, weapons of mass destruction and epidemics. Water consumption has increased sixfold since 1950, twice as fast as population growth. It has made the Earth’s ground water drained rapidly. Water levels in 13 of the Earth’s 37 largest groundwater storage is overloaded or extremely congested, according to research based on satellite images from the US space agency NASA. Population growth, increased meat consumption and climate change threatens water reserves.


Recently, also the plastic dispersion in water has been recognized. It spreads from our bathrooms, the rubbish and the dumping of waste in the oceans. Between 5 and 13 million tons of plastic is estimated to be spread in the oceans every year, the majority from developing countries through poor waste management. It takes up to one hundred years to break down the plastic and meanwhile microparticles reach animals and humans in the food chain. Sun protection creams may appear innocent, but contain oxybenzone, a substance that destroys the coral reef DNA and disrupt hormone production. Between 6000 and 14000 tonnes of suncreams are released into the coral reef per year, which together with the oceans rise in temperature, threaten reefs. Oil spills at sea is another problem. It happens more or less by purpose by some ships, but also at accidents. After the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and oil spill of 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, BP was sentenced to pay $ 18.7 billion in damages and fines in the United States.


Sweden is a country with excellent water conditions, which does not prevent the lack of problems. Approximately 60 municipal water supplies are polluted and 3.5 million people exposed, according to the national food authority (NFA). Researchers have also sounded alarm that many drink water sources are contaminated with extremely persistent and toxic per- and polyfluorinated alkyl acids (PFAs), chemicals that now exist in every person’s blood and can have effects on the reproductive, immune and hormone systems. Among other things, they spread from the fire extinguishing foam, but also from consumer products like leather impregnation, grease-repellent coatings, frying pans, grease resistant paper and detergents, as well as from industry. According to the NFA, PFAs is the greatest threat to drinking water today. They occur in some of the largest drinking water wells, including Norsborg and Järfälla which supply drinking water to one million Stockholmers, but high values ​​have also forced the closing of a number of wells in Bastad, Halmstad, Uppsala, Botkyrka and Ronneby. Especially high values ​​were measured at Arlanda and Kallinge airports where firefighting foam was used.


Nineteen of Sweden’s foremost chemical experts have called for a commission of inquiry to examine the effects of PFAs and what can be done to minimize the impact on the environment and health. Among other things, they want to enhance the European chemicals regulation with measures against chemical groups with serious health and environmental effetcs, therefore, when a hazardous substance is prohibited it shall not be allowed to be replaced by a similar substance whose effects on health and the environment are not known. Industry must scientifically demonstrate that a single substance in the group does not have the feared adverse effects on exemptions to be made.


In Skåne and Halland there are problems with acid soils and water, eutrophication in agriculture and sulfur and nitrogen deposition caused mainly by vehicle traffic. Torrential rains resulting in flooding occurred in Copenhagen in 2011 and in Malmö in 2014 with damages estimated at 4.9 billion Danish kroner and 160 million Swedish kronor. These are expected to be common in the future due to climate change. In a world which is two degrees warmer seas are expected to rise and erosion and floods erode hard on Halland, Skåne and Blekinge coasts. County Administrative Board of Skåne believes that not all the 650 km long coast can be protected, but retreat may be necessary in several locations.


Intelligence Watch believes in the need for a national and global strategy for securing water supply and our oceans in future. More people on Earth will consume more water, not less. The European chemicals regulation must be tightened. Measures need to be taken against flooding and the sea level rise must be taken into account in the planning.