Melting Alpine Glaciers Expose Our Toxic Past

Published on October 26th, 2009 | by

Scientists have discovered high levels of toxic pollutants trapped in the Swiss Alps are being released from melting glaciers in the Swiss Alps region. A recent study of deposits in several lakes in the Alps showed high levels in legacy organic pollutants during the 1960’s and 70’s, a drop thereafter, and a rise again in the last 10-15 years. The preliminary conclusion is that what was trapped in the glaciers is now being released.

Photo Credit: efou222Decades old toxins are melting from Swiss glaciers like this one
Decades old toxins are melting from Swiss glaciers like this one

During the mid-twentieth century when Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), including dioxins and pesticides like DDT, were used around the world, they built up over central Switzerland in atmospheric currents and were deposited in high concentrations in the water that froze as part of the glaciers. Now, with accelerating glacial melt attributed to climate change and global warming, the many toxic and since banned substances are turning up in glacier-fed Alpine lakes.

“We can confirm with the help of these layers that, in the 1960s and 1970s, POPs (Persistant Organic Pollutants) were produced in great quantities and were also deposited in this Alpine lake,” said Christian Bogdal of the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Testing and Research and one of the authors of a recent study.

The Alps supply the water to many of the largest rivers in Europe and are an essential piece of the Alpine ecosystem. Scientists worry that short but heavy spurts of pollution during spring/ summer melt could affect fish populations and drinking water at hiking huts.

While more research needs to be done to see how toxic the substances still are and where they will end up, should we worry that this is just one example of frozen pollution around the world?


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