The hydrological cycle is nature's way of cleaning the water, ground and air on our planet. During each 24 hour period, approximately one trillion tons of water evaporates from the earth's surface. The hydrological cycle points out the indestructibility of water. Water is not used up or exhausted, it is constantly recycled.
The cycle is an enormous distillation system powered by the sun. As the heat of the sun vaporizes [evaporates] the liquid water and draws it from the earth's surface into the atmosphere, most impurities are left behind. The vapour eventually cools [clouds] and condenses falling back to earth as precipitation. As it returns the water begins to collect impurities while passing through smog and the dust laden lower atmosphere. The classic phrase " It always smells so fresh after a heavy rain" is a true statement. It is a scientific fact the falling rain cleans the air. Unfortunately the impurities that were "washed" from the air have not left us, they have just been relocated onto the ground.
Precipitation falls onto many different geological formations and depending on the formation many different actions can take place. Water that falls upon the ground, vice directly into oceans, rivers or lakes will percolate through the different geological formations and eventually find its way to a surface water supply or collect in an aquifer. As it percolates through the earth, some of the impurities will be "filtered" out, but in the same instance, as natures solvent, the water will take on minerals and elements from the surrounding environment.
This is reason why ground water sources have so many varying water conditions: hard, acidic, iron, odours and unpleasant tastes to name a few. Hard water may reduce the efficiency of detergents and result in mineral deposits ruining plumbing and appliances but unless it is extremely hard and consumed in very large quantities, health effects are minimal. Any of these conditions are annoying, but rarely life threatening. A good example of extremes is "Sulphureous" water [rotten egg smell]. It may be repulsive to our sense of smell, but many preach the benefits of its use!
Eventually the water will reach a body of surface water and Mother Nature's cycle will begin again.
Unfortunately water is also collecting chemical impurities throughout this entire cycle. These chemicals are generally odourless, colourless, tasteless and most importantly health threatening. The statement, "my parents drank this water for 75 years and it never killed them", is no longer a valid excuse to not be concerned with water quality.
The massive increase in chemical waste has only been in the last 30 years. The levels of specific chemical contamination are only now reaching points where current detection technology can accurately analyze the precise amounts present. The science and medical community has not had time nor the ability to study the long term health effects of the more than 70,000 chemicals that can be found in use on any given day on this planet.
Precipitation indiscriminately falls upon municipal dump sites, toxic waste sites, industrial refuse depots, mining operations, farmers fields, and on and on. Natures solvent slowly dissolves minute amounts of the host of chemicals present in these locations and together they travel into our surface and ground water supplies via sewers, storm drains, percolation or direct deposit.
We have found out that many of these chemicals when allowed to interact with each other, [something that was not considered during their development], will create new compounds. Chemicals that are considered acceptable in controlled amounts may react with other elements and/or chemicals to form new compounds that are highly carcinogenic. Chlorine is the best publicized example. Chlorine reacts with organic matter and forms trihalomethanes. This chemical is fast approaching "Number One" on the chemical hit list.
All is not bleak. In the USA and Canada the original "safe" level or "allowable" limits assigned to many of the chemicals is coming under close review. All of this will take time, our industrial drive for bigger, better, faster, cannot be changed overnight.
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