“Poisoned water”: Portugal’s underground water supplies are “practically all polluted”

Using language more commonly associated with the British stiff-upper lip, Portugal’s environmental association ZERO has described as “worrying” the discovery that almost all the country’s underground water supplies are polluted by high levels of chemicals running off intensive farming and agricultural projects.

The law that is meant to control pollution by ammoniacal nitrates is “dead on its feet”, says ZERO.

The poison – harmful not only to humans but to the balance of water systems – exists in excessive concentrations in 42% of the underground waters analysed, while all aquifers tested positive for its presence, albeit in smaller quantities.

What is to be done? ZERO recommends that financial support should be withdrawn from all farmers who ‘overuse’ pesticides, “particularly those of industrial origin”.

Pig farmers fall into this bracket, but president of Portugal’s agricultural federation João Dinis warns it is too easy to blame all farmers. Culpability rests with “large intensive agricultural producers”, he told Antena 1 (RTP) radio station.

The majority of Portugal’s small producers do not even have the money to buy the offending pesticides, he explained.

ZERO’s findings, coming after 14 years of study throughout the country, coincide with the country being in the grip of severe drought. This has already caused many aquifers to be ‘contaminated’ by seawater.

As reports have agreed, future replenishing rainfall will correct this problem naturally, but without rain, the toxic build-up of Portugal’s underground waterways continues – and as ZERO explains, many households draw the poisoned water (via pumps from boreholes) for domestic use every day.

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