Written by Kate Patterson, ESLLC 2017-2018
Over the last century farming practices have changed drastically when it comes to the use of fertilizers and pesticides. Farmers have moved away from hand weeding, crop rotation, and seasonal timing to keep the weeds and pests away and instead rely more on pesticides and fertilizers. These techniques have increased food production and decreased agricultural costs but have also had a negative effect on the environment. This increase in chemicals has led to a higher concentration of unnatural chemicals in the ground water due to a process named leaching. Leaching occurs when water travels through permeable soil and carries soluble contaminates down into the groundwater.
Leaching is a major environmental concern because of the slow breakdown of these chemicals that occurs underground. The lack of sunlight and oxygen decreases the breakdown of the pesticides and fertilizers and allows them to stay in the groundwater at higher concentrates for longer than if they were at the surface. These chemicals eventually reach the aquifers and make their way to springs or streams or are pulled from the ground through wells. Either way these chemicals are making it into the oceans and in some cases into our drinking water. These chemicals wreak havoc on the marine life and other animals that rely on clean water sources as well as humans who can ingest these chemicals through their drinking water.
Leaching occurs from other practices besides agricultural chemical use. Different forms of leaching come from landfills, sewage treatment plants, and factory runoff. With little regulations on how to contain these toxins, the amount of chemicals leached into the groundwater has increased and caused serious impact on the entire ecosystem. Leaching doesn’t just affect the area where the contaminates originate but it effects a larger area due to the movement of water through the aquifer. Regulations on chemicals and disposal methods have been made but they are not enough. Larger steps need to be made to decrease the unnatural chemicals being released into the water cycle.