Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Grand River: Highest Concentrations of Artificial Sweeteners in the World - Environmental Impact?

I have written before about environmental issues relating to my ancestral Grand River Valley.  As a young person, I worked with the Haldimand Norfolk Organization for a Pure Environment (HOPE) to defeat the Provincial Government's intention to place a toxic waste dump in the Township of South Cayuga.  I have cheered on Six Nations activists such as Ruby and Floyd Montour in their efforts to support the residents of Dundalk at the headwaters of the Grand River where the Provincial Government wished to dump tons of human sludge from waste water facilities.  I have cursed the Six Nations groups who are behind the Samsung and other "wind farm" projects in the Grand River Tract.  What was particularly galling was the claim that the Haudenosaunee Development Institute and other groups at Six Nations could negotiate directly with the off shore (e.g., Korean) interests since the land (for example in South Cayuga) was unceeded Six Nations land.  That is a false claim, and I can easily dispell this erroneous assertion with irrefutable evidence from documents of the 1840s.  I see these horrid eye sores on the horizon, slowly creeping east from Norfolk, as about as far from "green" as one can go.  Just the sheer number of migratory birds that will die from the blades is unacceptable.  There will never be support from myself or like minded individuals concerning these "initiatives" of the Haldimand County authorities, the Land and Resources Department at Six Nations, or others such as the HDI intent on cashing in by making hay while the sun shines.  This is where I stand on the above issues.

There is a new (in the sense of recently recognized), if unlikely, potential environmental hazard impacting the Grand River Tract - artificial sweeteners.  First some background.  I think that many assume that the waste water treatment facilities along the Grand River are sufficient to remove anything hazardous such that those downstream can safely use (with proper filtration systems) the water of the Grand River.  It is known that, for example, pharmaceuticals or their bioactive metabolites can pop out of the treatment facility virtually intact.  One known to stay firm is Viagara.  So depending on the number of men who use this drug in say Fergus, those in Elora will be exposed to varying levels of the drug in the River water.  One can imagine the number of muskrats that must be walking or swimming around with major stiffies after consuming enough of the Viagara saturated fish from the River :-)  There is a more pressing or urgent concern around medications such as vicodin or adderal and what effect they might have on humans who consume water from riverine sources.  This subject could be a topic for a subsequent blog post, but the focus here is on a study published 11 December 2013 which specifically focuses on the Grand River.

The article of interest is, John Spoelstra et al,, Artificial Sweeteners in a Large Canadian River Reflect Human Consumption in the Watershed, PLOS One, Vol. 8, Issue 12, December 2013.  The paper can be accessed here, and in pdf format here - all free (open access).

The following map from the above article nicely summarizes the problem:

Figure 1 Grand River Watershed (6,800 km2), Ontario, Canada.
There are clear "hotspots" shown, and these reflect the urban density of the population in the area (e.g., Waterloo, Guelph, Brantford).  The source is humans who for example consume artificial sweeteners such as saccarin to avoid natural sugar in an attempt at weight loss, and dietary control of diabetes.  So imagine all those packets of artificial sweeteners dumped in your Starbuck's coffee (I don't know what Tim Horton's uses for their double double).  After a series of way stations in the body and enroute to the sewage disposal plant, the sweetener ends up virtually intact being ejected out of the waste water pipe from the treatment plant in say Brantford, and may be found in the tap water at Six Nations or Caledonia.
The study is fascinating for a number of reasons.  One is that it allows scientists to track chemical used only by humans (last I checked, Starbucks was not serving lattes to bovine customers).  The problem is likely eclipsed by far by the phosphate run off from agricultural operations in the Grand River watershed, although some substances that are used by humans may be having unknown adverse effects.
As I have said on many occasions, it is counter productive and highly detrimental to argue about claims that are without merit.  Ultimately any "gains" will be offset by losses in other areas (the cooperative spirit between all those living as neighbours).  In my opinion, it is these environmental issues that Six Nations and their non-Native neighbours should be addressing, working together to ensure the health of our River system, and the entire surrounding ecosystem.  Surely there is common ground here.

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