DUHOK, Iraq—With violent conflict subsiding in Iraq, environmental issues that affect everyday life are rising in importance. Researchers are taking a closer look at such problems as pollution in the country’s waterways and the poor quality of drinking water.
“People think about survival in wartime, they don’t have time to worry about long-term issues,” says Dilshad Mohammed, a researcher at the Directorate of the Environment in Duhok. “Environmental issues like water quality need consistent funding and to be considered over a long period of time.”
In a recently published study, Mohammed collected water samples at six sites along the river network stretching downstream from Duhok dam to Mosul dam. He also took samples from Mosul Dam Lake itself, which supplies tap water to both Duhok and the larger city of Mosul.
He analyzed these samples for the presence of ten different heavy metals.
Heavy Metals in the Water
Some of the metals Mohammed tested for, such as zinc and copper, were typically within the Iraqi government’s recommended concentration levels. Others, such as chromium and manganese, were more often than not above the government’s safety standards. Aluminum, however, was the worst offender. Its concentrations consistently exceeded the standards at every site with the sole exception of Mosul Dam Lake.
Fortunately, no metal has yet been found above the government thresholds in Mosul Dam Lake, but aluminum is getting very close, warns Mohammed. If the rivers that feed the lake continue to exceed the recommended concentrations of heavy metals, the lake would ultimately become polluted.
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“The Iraqi government hasn’t taken any measurements or done any studies during the last seven years because of the conflicts in the region,” says Zeki Gokalp, an associate professor of biosystems engineering at Erciyes University in Turkey, who collaborated with Mohammed. “We thought it would be a good idea to analyze heavy metal concentrations because there are some industrial activities along the river.”
Potential Health Risks
Other experts say there could be health risks in the future if this problem isn’t properly addressed. “There is an association between aluminum and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease,” says Mohamed Essa, an associate professor in the Ageing and Dementia Research Group at Sultan Qaboos University in Oman.
Both animal experiments and human-based studies have shown a positive association between the risk of Alzheimer’s and exposure to toxic metals such as aluminum.