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Earth Science

Pristine Lakes Are Filled With Toxins (bbc.com) 100

Much of the focus on plastic pollution centres on our oceans. Emerging evidence shows it's also a problem in freshwater, which may even be the source. From a report: "Freshwater systems are increasingly studied but still at a much smaller scale than oceans," says Filella. This may simple be due to the fact that initial studies focused on the ocean -- and so research proposals and grants followed suit. It didn't take long for the Geneva team to find what they were looking for. Filella and colleagues collected over 3,000 samples. They went on to analyse 670 of these, revealing some worrying results. Many of these samples contained hazardous and toxic elements including cadmium, mercury and lead -- in some cases in "very high concentrations", as outlined in a 2018 paper in the journal Frontiers of Environmental Science.

A large proportion of these toxic elements are now banned or restricted. This "reflected the age and residence time of the plastic stock in the lake," says Filella: the plastic waste has been building up over several decades. And as we know, plastic can take hundreds of years to degrade. [...] Lake Geneva is not an outlier. Other lakes show similar levels of pollution. Italy's Lake Garda, for example, also has high levels of plastic waste. A sample from the northern part of the lake contained 1,000 large plastic particles and 450 smaller particles (microplastics) per square metre. [...] It is now becoming clearer that much of the plastic that ends up in the ocean starts off in freshwater bodies in the first place -- estimates suggest it could be as much as 70-80%.

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Pristine Lakes Are Filled With Toxins

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  • Pollution is the cost of doing business. So maybe business should pay to clean it up.

    • by Humbubba ( 2443838 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @05:09PM (#56532681)
      OrangeTide said

      Pollution is the cost of doing business...

      It's not business that's the problem. The problems are deregulation, negligence, inadequate safety standards, cost cutting, mistakes, ignorance, carelessness, indifference and disregard.

      ... So maybe business should pay to clean it up

      It's a start. If the executives at fault lose their own money and go to jail, that would make a world of difference.

  • Exactly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @01:38PM (#56530825) Homepage Journal
    While people are going on about "Climate Change" the REAL IMMEDIATE DANGER is local pollution! Where do you think your water comes from? You are worried about lower Manhattan getting flooded in 2050 while you drink your toxic water! Complete insanity.
    • Re:Exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by foxalopex ( 522681 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @01:45PM (#56530893)

      Because many of these problems go hand in hand. A reduction of use of fossil fuels in our cars for example would reduce the pollution from them. Many of our plastics use cheap and freely available fossil fuels. If we cut back on fossil fuels, then cheap oil won't be available and folks will stop making as much plastic and fall back to using more naturally sourced organic materials (cellulose or fiber makes a good building material for example).

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        "If we cut back on fossil fuels, then cheap oil won't be available"

        What? I give up on Slashdot.
      • "Oh no, everyone's cut back on fossil fuels now that alternative and renewable energy sources are available!"
        "But what do we do now with our oil surplus and glut of production capacity?"
        "People still need fossil fuels for some of the vehicles they use."
        "But not enough! Prices will drop if people don't consume it!"

        "I want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics."

      • Actually, a surprising (and outright concerning) amount of water pollution comes from cost-cutting with waste water treatment plants--ranging from just skipping steps in treating sewage to assuming that the roads are always always always clean so you can just have the storm drains dump straight into the nearest bodies of water without aaaaany bad consequences.

    • by hipp5 ( 1635263 )

      While people are going on about "Climate Change" the REAL IMMEDIATE DANGER is local pollution! Where do you think your water comes from? You are worried about lower Manhattan getting flooded in 2050 while you drink your toxic water! Complete insanity.

      Well, we kind of need to be working on both of those things at the same time, because the fixes for things like climate change will take decades, if not centuries. If we wait until we solve the toxic water problem before we tackle climate change, 2050 will be here already. Luckily, nations are capable of doing more than one thing at once, and many of the the solutions to one environmental problem help fix other environmental problems.

    • How about this: We focus on all the above instead of just one thing, mmkay? We have 7.6 billion people on this planet, I think we can find enough people to work on fixing everything simultaneously. Unless nobody wants a planet they can live in a few hundred years, that is.
    • Also 2050 is way to conservative. We're worried about lower crop yields and severe weather leading to food shortages and wars. It doesn't take a massive change to screw everything up.
    • Actually, the water you drink isn't toxic because it's been treated and filtered and whatnot.
      Anyway, I've been to Lago di Garda back in 2009, it was beautiful, and I genuinely believed its water to be very clean (it was clear and without a shred of garbage in sight).

    • We can be worried about more than one environmental issue. Heck it is particularly easy since for the most part the political candidates concerned about any given major environmental issue are generally concerned about others as well, and because there's pretty heavy overlap between issues. For example, burning coal for power plants involves coal mining which is a serious source of pollution in fresh water systems.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Can we get rid of MsMash please? All they post is emotionally based stories, none of this MEANS anything.

    I cannot utilize the knowledge that water is polluted to create anything at all, there has been no innovation here, nothing was created or constructed. No one programmed anything, there are no chips, electricity or engineering to ANY ARTICLE FROM MSMASH EVER.

    Whoever they are, their just a muck raker "zomfg, did you hear about the water, LOLZ, its like totally like polluted *japanese giggle*" All they

  • And yet it's all about plastics not degrading? I wonder if MsMash understands that the only way you get heavy metals into plastic is if you're using recycled plastics that were mixed in with heavy metals to begin with. Virgin plastic doesn't use Cd, Hg, or Pb for catalyzing or production of plastic. It's the push for recycled materials that creates the potential hazard.
    • Re:Cd, Hg, Pb (Score:5, Insightful)

      by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @01:56PM (#56531013)

      Virgin plastic doesn't use Cd, Hg, or Pb for catalyzing or production of plastic.,

      Yes it does. Hg is used as a catalyst in chlorine production, and ends up in PVC. Pb is used as a stabilizer, and Cd is used to create yellow and red pigments.

      • RoHS sets limits on what you can have - and it's infinitesimally small levels. RoHS - created and driven by the EC - says you cannot have any residual Hg, Pb, or Cd in your products.
      • The use of cadmium in pigments has been banned by several countries for a few years. Concentrations in fresh water should decrease over time.
    • Re:Cd, Hg, Pb (Score:4, Informative)

      by hipp5 ( 1635263 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @02:18PM (#56531223)

      I was confused by the summary too, so I looked at the study. These heavy metals used to be used in plastics as stabilizers and colour pigments, but are now typically banned. The study used this fact to demonstrate that the plastics they were finding predate regulations (i.e. are old) and have therefore been building up in these lakes for decades.

      • and have therefore been building up in these lakes for decades.

        If they pre-date regulations, then they have not been building up for decades. They accumulated decades ago and are not building up through any human activity now.

        In other words, since there is already regulation prohibiting them, this is not a current problem that we can enact more legislation to deal with. This is like someone coming across a thalidomide baby that is grown up, hearing about what happened, and yelling that we need to enact legislation to ban thalidomide. Or hearing about someone killing

        • by hipp5 ( 1635263 )
          No, you missed the point (maybe deliberately, judging by that username?). The study isn't about heavy metals in plastics. It's about plastics in waterways. They just used heavy metal analysis as a dating method to show how old some of the plastics are. I.e. the plastics in the waterways have been accumulating for ages.
  • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

    A toxin is a poisonous substance created by organic mechanisms. What do micro-plastics and heavy metals have to do with toxins?

    • by Holi ( 250190 )
      I get you are trying to be pedantic, but you failed to understand that plastics are organic compounds.
      • Organic Vs. Toxin (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JBMcB ( 73720 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @03:06PM (#56531683)

        True, plastics are organic compounds. However, what defines a toxin is that it is a result of an organic *process* meaning it was produced in a living organism.

        Also, I'm not being pedantic - these are scientific terms that have specific meanings. Exchanging the terms poison and toxin is just as dumb as calling toxic substances "chemicals."

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @01:56PM (#56531009)

    Pristine Lakes Are Filled With Toxins

    ... then they're not "pristine" -- which means, "in its original condition; unspoiled" or "clean and fresh as if new; spotless".

    How about, "Lakes Thought To Be Pristine Are Filled With Toxins".

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @02:00PM (#56531057) Homepage

      Really. Lake Geneva - in the middle of Switzerland. Which has been industrialized since industry was industry. Take a quick look at the area with your GIS of choice - it's hardly 'pristine'.

      TL;DR - we have some issues with pollution.....

    • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @02:18PM (#56531211) Journal
      One of the lakes specifically mentioned, Lake Geneva, is not only not pristine but there is no way that anyone could ever think it would be! It's a large lake with several large towns on the shore. Geneva in particular used to use the water in a factory (the original cause of the famous Jet d'eau) and it has ferries which criss-cross between the shore towns. This is not even close to being "pristine".
    • Heavy metals also leach out of mountains or other geological features naturally, so they may be actually pristinely polluted.
      • True point, but as it turns out orthogonal to the study -- the summary is pretty misleading even for around here. The study [frontiersin.org] was about the presence of plastics in the lakes, and that some of the plastics contain high levels of heavy metals. They didn't find heavy metals in the water itself, and specifically punt on whether it's even possible for the heavy metals to leach from the plastics:

        The migratability of hazardous elements from the polymeric matrix is likely to determine their environmental impacts and is recommended as a future area of research.

    • Without looking, I think 'pristine' used in this context is a legal definition, not a dictionary definition.
    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      On further investigation, the lakes are filled with DHMO.
      This known toxin has lead to thousands of deaths, including small children who have accidentally entered the lakes.

  • Jack D. Ripper [wikiquote.org] was right! They are trying to impurify all of our precious bodily fluids!
  • I read this article and was thinking of a movie I saw when I was 10 or so about industrial pollutants in North East US causing some bear to become a mutant monster. I can see that still happening with all they're doing now.

  • by cirby ( 2599 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @02:18PM (#56531217)

    ...a fair number of "pristine" lakes and waterways contain surprising amounts of heavy metals and other nasty things because they pick them up from natural sources. They casually mention it, but it's a bigger problem than you'd think - usually parts per billion, but that's enough to trigger EPA attention by itself, for example.

    The other thing to watch out for is the complete lack of useful numbers in the article. The paper itself has them, and they are certainly high. In fact, they're so high it makes you wonder if they screwed up their tests. They claim 23,700 ppm of lead in some plastic samples. Almost 24 parts per thousand? More than TWO PERCENT lead in plastic as part of the manufacturing process? Or a sample with almost EIGHT PERCENT chromium? In plastic? Are they sure they weren't pointing the detector at their car instead?

    Sorry, not buying it. Someone either screwed up the analysis, wrote "parts per million" instead of "parts per billion," or something even dumber.

    • The maximums are so far off from the medians that I don't see how they wouldn't throw those out as outliers. But it's enviro-science (defined as real science taken out of context), whose goal is almost always to scare people into action, so this is par for the course.
    • Is there a way to tell if toxins such as heavy metals come from man-made pollution, man-made environmental alteration (such as diverting streams), versus purely natural?

      It's tricky to regulate and clean if we don't know what's causing it.

    • Not to mention...

      ...1,000 large plastic particles and 450 smaller particles (microplastics) per square metre.

      Square metre?

  • Lake Geneva is not an outlier. Other lakes show similar levels of pollution. Italy's Lake Garda

    Calling Lake Geneva or Lake Garda "pristine" is ridiculous. There are major cities located on those lakes, and they have been used for waste dumping, agricultural runoff, and mining wastes since Roman times.

    • by suman28 ( 558822 )
      Yes, that is EXACTLY what you should focus on in this story
      • No, what you should focus on is that the BBC and other media publish fake news, spread FUD, and lie to you. This is just one particularly egregious example out of many.

  • Ban plastic food containers. I grew up with everything in a bottle. Milk bottles, coke bottles, ketchup, mayo, everything was in a glass container. We took the coke bottles back to the store for the deposit and the kids used that to buy candy and more cokes. Plastic is cheaper but not if it's going to poison us.

    • This is common in Europe for things like drinks. You can also get milk in glass bottles, but normally you only get it in metal lined paper. Come to think of it, I think I have never seen plastic milk bottles here.
      Banning plastic would not be that big of a deal here I think. Most people that I know get their meat from the butcher counter and that is wrapped in waxed paper.
      Ice cream would be an issue.
      At one point, I guess we will need to bite the bullet though.

    • by cirby ( 2599 )

      ...and the amount of energy and other resources used to ship (heavier, so more-costly to make and distribute), return, and clean/disinfect was much, much higher than just selling it in lightweight plastic in the first place.

      • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

        Sure, plastic is cheaper in the short run. But the environment is getting saturated with it. What will another hundred years of this bring us?

    • Ah yes, the advantages of glass bottles. https://ic.pics.livejournal.com/write_light/11965346/677967/677967_original.jpg [livejournal.com]
  • I am not disputing that the water has pollutants in it. I am just wonder if the same samples were taken years back. Can we rule out the possibility that those lakes have always had such chemicals in them?

  • I just saw this [google.com] on the Google news feed: Russia just launched a floating nuclear power plant, headed to the Arctic. I can't help but comment on this headline: Russia's 'Nuclear Titanic' Heads West, Raising Fears of 'Chernobyl on Ice' [newsweek.com] to say the "Chernobyl on Ice" sounds like the worst Ice Capades [wikipedia.org] theme ever.

    (Apologies to those that take the potential destruction of the environment and Earth seriously.)

  • All these European countries with pollution in their lakes, you might think they had a World-wide war with Bombs, and gas, and things detonated or masses of un-used ordinance buried everywhere.


    Well, yea, wars do that. They destroy everything they touch for hundreds of years onward.

  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Monday April 30, 2018 @04:49PM (#56532521)
    In northern Minnesota there is a large national park with pristine wilderness, scenic 500 foot bluffs, and crystal clear lakes popular for fishing and many have over 15 feet of water clarity. It's a popular camping spot, but they only let in a few people per day and make you watch a video of how to leave no trace since it's so untouched. The video says "it's a pristine wilderness, so let's keep it that way."

    You can't eat the fish.

    Mercury contamination from coal power as far away as china has polluted the lakes to the point many of them aren't safe to eat the fish, or it's a small portion per month.
  • What is the opinion that I should form based on my 30 seconds worth of media spoonfeeding today?

    A) Pollution is bad, so we should throw money at researchers looking into it, as proven by this unbiased paper in the journal Frontiers of Environmental Science
    B) Pollution used to be worse, so efforts in the last 25-50 years to reduce heavy metal use in plastics manufacturing are paying off. We should fund future research to ensure this trend continues,


    C) Lake Geneva, surrounded by active civilization but "p

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!