Groundwater is an essential freshwater resource for many people in dry, remote, and sparsely populated regions. In the summer of 2015 and 2016 we observed the water quality of groundwater within an environmental science study and carried out questionnaires and spoken surveys about their lifestyle within an anthropological study in Inner Mongolia. The survey was conducted with local herders as citizen scientists. Before observations, the herders were trained in how to sample groundwater, how to use a measurement kit and how to take relevant notes.
People who live in Inner Mongolia have been required to settle due to the Chinese government’s land use system, established in the 1960’s. The herders began to heavily rely on groundwater as a means of survival. They could no longer use water from other sources, such as river water or snowmelt. In addition, along with economic development, people have begun digging several wells on their properties, which results in groundwater pollution caused by contaminants. This has become a serious problem in many of the areas we have conducted research; in fact we observed fluoriosis during our 2016 research. High levels of livestock waste were also observed around several wells, causing high nitrate ion concentrations in the groundwater.
Within a previous study in the South Gobi, our research indicated that, if groundwater is drunk by herders, the fluoride and nitrate ions in the groundwater posed a serious risk to human health. From the very beginning, we have only concentrated on the fluoride and nitrate ions in groundwater in order to estimate the human health risk levels to the population. In order to understand, not only water quality, but also eating habits, the herders’ lifestyle is essential for human health risk assessment. Our results reflect the potential health risks surrounding the drinking of groundwater within the herder population. Thanks to a combination of environmental science and ethnographic research, in collaboration with citizen scientists, this has been the strength of our research.
Results from our analysis found that fifty percent of the Mongolian herding population may be at risk, caused by fluoride ions in the groundwater and ten percent could be at risk to their health from increased nitrate ions in the groundwater. The local government has already provided water-filtering systems to some low-income families in the area. The herding community saythat they tried to use this system but they couldn’t use it effectively because the water flow of the system was very slow. They also say that the groundwater looks deceptively clean. Our results indicate that it is important to inform residents about the human health risks of drinking polluted groundwater and to provide the opportunity to think about how to reduce the health risks which may have already occurred through drinking contaminated groundwater.
Research by Koyomi Nakazawa (Fukuoka Institute of Technology), Osamu Nagafuchi (Fukuoka Institute of Technology), Wuqirilteu (Australian National University), Koji Kanefuji (The Institute of Statistical Mathematics), Yi jin (Echoing Steppe NGO), Chen Ji-qun (Echoing Steppe NGO), Sasiqin (Inner Mongolia Agricultural University).