The Hydrotoxic Spiral

Research & Introductions by Tracy Delaney
Illustration: Transition by Rami Schandall

THE HYDROLOGIC CYCLE connects us all to one another through space and time. Water is neither created nor destroyed, though it can be rendered unusable by pollution. The water we have on Earth now is the same water that's always been here, endlessly recycled. Due to the nature of the cycle, and the nature of water and its tendency to move and flow, toxins released on one side of the world can and do end up in drinking water on the other, and pollutants from the sixties are still in our water today and will be for generations to come.

Because we are all recycling and sharing the same finite supply of water throughout time, anything any of us do to it will affect both ourselves and everyone else, not only in the present but in the future as well. Our bodies cannot live without water, so our only option if we want to survive on this "spaceship in which the oceans are our water supply," as Jacques Cousteau put it, is to protect our finite water resource. Our progress on that since the 1960s can be illustrated by this series of environmental articles.

Starting in 1961, looking at groundwater, we can see that problems were already evident, and that then as now they were generally identified when someone was poisoned. Groundwater is water that has seeped into the Earth and collected in underground aquifers, from where our wells pump water and springs spring. The aquifers are the underground areas of loosely packed silt, rock etc in which water collects in the gaps in sufficient quantities to allow it to be extracted, like a saturated sponge. Therefore, anything poured onto or put into the ground can contaminate the groundwater:

From What the Poisoners Knew in 1961, by Peter Montague,, 1988:

"The report makes it crystal clear that the entire problem of groundwater contamination from chemical waste disposal, and from landfilling of municipal wastes, was well understood, well documented, and the subject of urgent warnings in 1961……"

"They also pointed out that regulatory authorities were not the ones discovering the damage: people using the water were discovering it the hard way -- by being poisoned. After poisonings occur, then the regulators get involved; this is still true today……."

"'One thing stands out in all the reports on the subject -- we are up against another crisis resulting from man's perversity in breaking the laws of nature', said a conservation consultant in 1961."


Groundwater that's not pumped out for drinking is the slowest-moving part of the water cycle, it eventually moves through the ground and may end up joining a lake, or could form a spring and thus get into a stream. Both of these routes ultimately lead back to the ocean. Presumably this is the process by which PCBs manufactured exclusively by Monsanto in America were found polluting the ocean around Sweden, and accumulating in people's bodies there, in 1966. By then PCBs had spread quietly throughout the world causing an irreversible global problem.

From Conspiracy of Silence, by Eric Francis, 1994:

"Polychlorinated biphenyls and their even-more-toxic by-products, dioxins and dibenzofurans, poured through the buildings and spilled outside, contaminating groundwater, storm sewers, utility manholes, lawns, and roads at levels up to a million times the state's legal limit."

"FOR THREE DECADES, the PCB problem remained invisible to the public -- and indeed to everyone except the top managers of the companies that produced and used the chemical. That changed suddenly in 1966 with the accidental discovery of global PCB pollution by Swedish chemist Soren Jensen."

or at Planet Waves

So the groundwater, with contaminants from chemical waste disposal, landfills, PCBs etc makes it back to the ocean, from where the Sun will evaporate it, and it will eventually fall as rain many miles away. Depending on their chemistry, the toxins will either re-enter the water cycle as rain, or if they can't escape that way will remain in the ocean, gradually increasing in concentration over time. In 1969, Jacques Cousteau felt that even this was by no means the biggest problem our oceans faced, believing that over-fishing will kill the ocean long before pollution does:

The Plowboy Interview, Jacques Cousteau, 1969:

"For the first time, it was obvious that men on this earth are nothing else than 3 billion astronauts on a spaceship, and a spaceship in which the oceans are our water supply. And we are there going into this desert hostile universe only depending from this mass of water which is the oceans, the clouds, the rivers, etc.- knowing that only 1% of this total water is in circulation - all the rest being the oceans. If this is so, it is obvious also that this water mass, the oceans, where life originated, is also critical for our survival. When we are speaking of protection of the sea, it is a little more than conservation of nature and protecting species that may disappear. It is a question of life and death for mankind, and this thing that I think some of the other speakers have already emphasized, I will emphasize in my own manner in a little while as a diver, as a witness of the dying ocean."


However in 1989 it became apparent that PCBs in the ocean actually are threatening to bring about the extinction of marine mammals:

Thanks to Monsanto, by Peter Montague,, 1989:

"Joseph Cummins, Associate Professor of Genetics at University of Western Ontario, writing in the journal, THE ECOLOGIST, says that if even as little as 15% more of the world's stock of PCBs gets into the oceans, 'the extinction of marine mammals would be inevitable'."


Whatever evaporates from the ocean forms clouds and the rainfall may seep back into the earth as groundwater or may land in a reservoir. Whether our water comes from a reservoir or groundwater, it is treated before it reaches our taps (unless you have a private well), but note that treatment does not remove all contaminants, and getting water to the tap itself has an inherent historical problem -- the lead in the pipes:

A Hopeful New Year's Resolution For A Nation That Has Poisoned Its Children, by Peter Montague,, 1990:

"… the average (mean) concentration of lead in the blood of American children ages 6 months to 5 years is 16 micrograms per deciliter; thus American children have 30 times as much lead in their blood as humans have naturally."


When the water, lead etc comes out of the tap, we also discover that "even the best treatment available" has not removed the pesticides from it. This can't be good for us. Commercial agriculture plays a big part in polluting our water. We end up drinking pesticides that have seeped into the groundwater after being sprayed on the soil:

Pesticides Pose Greater Threat To U.S. Drinking Water Supplies Than Factories And Toxic Dumps, by Peter Montague,, 1996:

"According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, even the best treatment available is not significantly reducing the concentration of pesticides in water and the only way to solve the problem is to change human attitudes and behavior."


And pesticides are not all that's coming out of the tap:

Drugs in the Water, by Peter Montague,, 1998:

"Pharmaceutical drugs given to people and to domestic animals -- including antibiotics, hormones, strong pain killers, tranquilizers, and chemotherapy chemicals given to cancer patients -- are being measured in surface water, in groundwater, and in drinking water at the tap."


It's usually not practically possible to clean up an aquifer, so once groundwater is badly contaminated the aquifer is simply no longer usable. Every time this happens a part of our finite water supply is gone for good.

By 1998 all of the above has made its way back to the ocean, where there are now far fewer fish for it to kill. We are now "fishing down the food chain" thus eradicating food supplies for what remains of the larger species that have already been over-fished. Corporations for whom fishing is big business have already done irreversible damage and several species are threatened with extinction:

Oceans Without Fish, by Peter Montague,, 1998:

"Combined with larger nets made from new, stronger materials, modern fishing vessels guided electronically can sweep the oceans clean -- and that is precisely what is happening. As a result, the ocean's fish are disappearing, and so are the family-scale fishing operations that used to dominate the industry."


Now, in 2003, the Dead Sea itself is dying:

The Dead Sea is Dying, MSNBC, 2003:

"The Dead Sea is dying, and only a major engineering effort can save it, Israel’s Minister of the Environment said Monday. The Dead Sea gets its name from its heavy salt content, because no aquatic creatures can live in it. Now there’s a new 'death threat' -- the Dead Sea is drying up and disappearing."


The need to conserve water can seem paradoxical when we have oceans full of it. Desalination is actually possible, and is carried out in certain places, mainly the Middle East and also in Florida, but it is extremely expensive, requires vast amounts of electricity, and heavily pollutes the ocean. Those who are putting this forward as the answer (most of whom seem to want to make money out of it) may be about to compound our problems. Surely all of the above sounds more like a strong argument for organic farming, homeopathy, the use of natural products and in general trying to work with nature rather than against it. Our water conservation tips and resources are here.++