Sustainability and Social Justice

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Untreated wastewater from the Mexico City basin has been used for decades to irrigate cropland in the Mezquital Valley, State of Hidalgo, Mexico. Excess irrigation water recharges the near-surface aquifer that is used as a domestic water supply source. We assessed the groundwater quality of three key groundwater sources of domestic water by analyzing for 24 trace metals, 67 target base/neutral/acid (BNA) organic compounds, nontarget BNA organics, 23 chlorinated pesticides, 20 polychlorinated biphenyls, and nitrate, as well as microbiological contaminants - coliforms, Vibrio cholerae, and Salmonella. Study participants answered a questionnaire that estimated ingestion and dermal exposure to groundwater; 10% of the sample reported frequent diarrhea and 9% reported persistent skin irritations. Detection of V. cholerae non-01 in surface waters at all sites suggested a potential risk (surrogate indicator present) of diarrheal disease for canal and river bathers by accidental ingestion, as well as potential Vibrio contamination of near-surface groundwater and potential cholera risk, magnified by lapses in disinfection. High total coliform levels in surface water and lower levels in groundwater at all sites indicated fecal contamination and a potential risk of gastrointestinal disease in populations exposed to inadequately disinfected goundwater. Using chemical criteria, no significant risk from ingestion or dermal contact was identified at the method detection limits at any site, except from nitrate exposure: infants and young children are at risk from methemoglobinemia at all sites. Results suggest that pathogen risk interventions are a priority, whereas nitrate risk needs further characterization to determine if formal treatment is needed. The risks exist inside and outside the irrigation district. The method was highly cost-effective.

Publication Title

Environmental Health Perspectives

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groundwater, Mexico, nitrate, pathogens, risk, wastewater irrigation



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