We talked briefly about some environmental issues in class, but it was interesting to see those topics explored deeper in Ava’s presentation. I was particularly interested in her discussion of the toxicity of the water in the Painted Rock Reservoir, so I did a little more research.
In 2005, the Phoenix Sun Times described the reservoir as “one of the most toxic sinkholes of pesticide contamination in the country.” The main culprit, as Ava discussed, is the pesticide DDT. I was shocked to see the DDT, a likely carcinogen, has been found in Arizona milk. This happened because cows ate hay that was contaminated by the runoff water in the soil. In addition to this, the state advises against eating fish and other wildlife from the Gila River, because of the contamination. It is very concerning that in 2005, 36 years after DDT was banned in Arizona, it is still having such significant environmental impacts.
This points to the serious long term problems with pesticides and other forms of pollution. In our class readings, we learned about mines that have long since closed, but are still having negative impacts on their surrounding environments because of the toxic wastes associated with extractive mining. It doesn’t help that these wastes were often incorrectly disposed of, especially before federal environmental regulations became more stringent.
Beyond the scope of environmental damage, the pollution in the Painted Rock Reservoir has also had negative economic impacts for the Gila River community. One 2012 article in the High-Country News reports that the town was full of boarded up buildings, and looked generally sad. This example of environmental problems ruining a local economy, I am sure, is one of many. It is important to consider the effect that this, and other, instances of pollution have had on the economic outcomes of the Tohono O’odham. It seems logical to think that problems such have this one have only compounded the economic hardships faced by a tribe with an unemployment rate of almost 40 percent.