By Santiago Carbone
Montevideo, Nov 2 (EFE).- A senior Uruguayan government environmental expert told Efe that effective international cooperation is a major factor in addressing potential water-management risks ranging from phosphorus to mercury.
A mineral element found in rocks and bone, phosphorus is a critical ingredient in fertilizers, pesticides, detergents and other industrial and household chemicals and an essential nutrient for animal and plant growth and nourishment.
But its presence in rivers has made it a real environmental concern for Uruguay for nearly a decade, a problem stemming from the country’s location downstream from its neighbors.
In remarks to Efe, the director of the Uruguayan Environment Ministry’s Environmental Laboratory, Natalia Barboza, stressed that the problem has multiple causes and no easy solution.
She explained that some areas of the country already have been affected by phosphorus discharges from agricultural, industrial or municipal sources.
“We then make contributions and end up with a loading of phosphorus, for example, in the Uruguay River. But it’s not only the activity that we do, but what comes (from outside the country’s borders),” Barboza said.
The problem triggers algae and cynobacteria growth and other complications that, according to the expert, often prevent people from enjoying beaches during the summer season.
Finding a solution, moreover, is particularly challenging because Uruguay must work in conjunction with other countries in the region, she said.
“We have national policies … but Argentina has provincial (policies) and Brazil has state (ones). So at times it’s difficult to reach agreements with neighboring countries,” she added.
The laboratory Barboza leads carries out physicochemical and microbiological analysis and toxicity bioassays to gauge water, sediment, soil and air quality and detect the presence of environmental waste.
International cooperation has become an essential component of some of that work, she said.
For example, as part of its efforts to manage water quality and control water pollution, the Environmental Laboratory is receiving assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
The first joint study evaluated the water quality of the main tributaries of the Santa Lucia River, one of Uruguay’s major waterways, resulting in a master plan for managing the water quality of the rivers of Montevideo’s metropolitan area.
The analysis of the mercury load in the sediment and the design of an action plan for the Rio de la Plata coastal zone were some of the outcomes of that technical cooperation project.
“What had to be done was delimit the area, close it off and prohibit certain activities so people were not in contact” with mercury, mainly through the consumption of fish containing that neurotoxin.
Barboza said other analyses carried out as part of the study showed that mercury is not yet a problem for the local population, although that would have been a potential risk had the problem had not been addressed in time.
She also said international partnerships are important as a means of acquiring necessary equipment.
“It allows us to buy equipment that we use for a specific project but that later … are used for other things. In that way, it leaves us with installed analytical capacity,” the expert said. EFE