Water Testing in Iraq Shows Urgency of Remedying Environmental Neglect

/ 09 Sep 2019

Water Testing in Iraq Shows Urgency of Remedying Environmental Neglect

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.

“People think about survival in wartime, they don’t have time to worry about long-term issues.”

Dilshad Mohammed   A researcher at the Directorate of the Environment in Duhok

When toxic metals are absorbed into the bloodstream, they can reach the central nervous system by crossing the blood-brain barrier, explains Essa. Once in the brain, toxic metals including aluminum are reported to stimulate the production of compounds that can interfere with how nutrients are delivered to cells in the brain, possibly leading to Alzheimer’s disease.

Should the levels of aluminum in Mosul Dam Lake rise further, it could eventually pose a threat to human health, says Essa. “Exposure to toxic metals in any source must be considered a serious concern.”

Even though the concentrations of heavy metals in the lake are still low enough for the water to be used safely in the domestic supply, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be concerned about right now.

“If the water is used for irrigation then the metals get into the plants, which might be eaten by animals and eventually this ends up in humans,” explains Gokalp. “This process is known as bioaccumulation.” That’s an area of concern because at each stage of the food chain, the amount of heavy metals becomes more and more concentrated.

“That’s why this should be treated as a possible danger to human health,” he says.

Appraising the Challenge’s Scope 

The local government is aware of these problems, says Mohammed from Duhok’s Directorate of the Environment—that’s why he and Gokalp conducted the tests, which is the first stage in an ongoing effort to ensure that residents can continue to use their tap water.

“The government is taking it seriously,” insists Mohammed. “But we’re not without problems and one is the cost of potential solutions.”

Mohammed and Gokalp are about to publish further research findings. “In addition to the heavy metal investigations, I looked at other parameters such as temperature and the acidity levels,” says Mohammed.

The aim of their work is to a establish a full water quality audit to make sure the local government fully understands the challenge it’s facing. It will then take action based on the evidence.

However, it’s already clear to Mohammed and Gokalp that more control over the waste that enters the river system is needed. At the moment, domestic and industrial waste flows directly into the river without any treatment.

“They’re discharging their effluents into the river,” says Gokalp. “They should urgently treat the water effluent before allowing it to discharge in the river.”

“Installing correct sewage systems isn’t cheap,” says Mohammed. But it’s an endeavour worth the cost. “It might not be immediately very dangerous, but it will become so in the long run if we don’t act.”




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  1. Thank you to Mohamed Essa for informing people that aluminum is a causal factor of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Thank you to Dilshad Mohammed for testing for heavy metals in the water supply. Until a solution can be found the people in this region can protect themselves by filtering their water and drinking water which is rich in silica. Hopefully when they get plans for lowering the amount of water they will add silica to the water which will improve people’s health. To learn more about aluminum being a causal factor of Alzheimer’s read this chapter in the book Prevent Alzheimer’s Autism and Stroke with 7 Supplements 7 Lifestyle Choices and a dissolved Mineral by Dennis N Crouse. http://prevent-alzheimers-autism-stroke.com/index.php/chapter-1/


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