AUG 03, 2017 3:46 PM PDT

The Salton Sea is shrinking, and that may cause cardiovascular disease

A recent study published in Environmental Science and Technology proposes that shrinking of the Salton Sea saline lake in Southern California isn’t dangerous only because of the climate implications. No, in addition to that, the lake drying up means that more of the lake bed is exposed, and these parts of the lake, called playa, are releasing dust whose composition can harm human health.

"Playas have a high potential to act as dust sources because playa surfaces often lack vegetation," said Roya Bahreini, the leader of the project. "Dust emissions from playas increase airborne PM mass, which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and mortality."

A view from Salton Sea Beach on the western shore of the Salton Sea. Photo: Frank Foster Photo, New York Times

The team looked at how playa exposure was affecting the ambient particulate matter (PM) composition. To do so, they collected PM10 samples (particulate matter with diameters up to 10 microns) throughout two seasons at two sites near the Salton Sea as well as soil samples from local playa and desert surfaces. They analyzed these samples using mass spectrometry and X-ray diffraction and determined that dust sources were contributing roughly 45% of PM10 at the Salton Sea and playa emissions contributed approximately 10%.

They also discovered that playa emissions caused a rise in the sodium levels of PM10. Bahreini reports that this is concerning because "Increase in the sodium content of PM10 can affect the ecosystem when the sodium-rich particles deposit downwind and change the natural balance for soils and agricultural lands or when these particles form clouds.”

The study found that playa soils and PM10 have higher contents of selenium relative to desert soils as well. According to Bahreini, selenium can cause aquatic and avian toxicity. Nevertheless, Bahreini reports that the biggest concern regarding the playa PM emissions is, “the contribution to total concentration of PM10, which regardless of composition, is an irritant and can have negative respiratory effects."

And then there is the fear that the when the lake dries up, things will get a lot worse. The study notes that the Salton Sea currently receives water diverted from the Colorado River, but that that practice will stop before 2018. Without that water, the lake will likely dry up more, exposing more playa and dust.

"With more playa being exposed, we expect total PM10 concentrations to increase and human exposure to these particles in downwind areas will also increase," Bahreini said. "Therefore implementing any project, for example, creating shallow water pools over the playa, that limits formation of salt crusts on the playa will be valuable."

Sources: Science Daily, Environmental Science and Technology

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
MAR 21, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
MAR 21, 2020
Ergodic Theory Earned Retired Duos the Top Prize in Maths
The Abel Prize, organized by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, is the world's highest honor in mathemati ...
MAR 21, 2020
Earth & The Environment
MAR 21, 2020
Polluted sea ice will harm Arctic countries
New research published in the American Geophysical Union journal Earth’s Future warns that Arctic communities are ...
APR 11, 2020
Earth & The Environment
APR 11, 2020
The problems with the EPA's mercury analysis
A recent revision of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s cost-benefit analysis in support of a proposed r ...
APR 16, 2020
Earth & The Environment
APR 16, 2020
Are monarch butterflies stressed out?
Perhaps in your life you have participated in a project involving monarch butterflies. I can still remember being surpri ...
APR 19, 2020
Plants & Animals
APR 19, 2020
A Bullfrog Father Saves His Tadpoles From Certain Death
Most recognize the African bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus) as one of Africa’s largest known frogs, but there&rsq ...
MAY 18, 2020
Earth & The Environment
MAY 18, 2020
How to use commerical aircraft to measure CO2 emissions
New research published in Scientific Reports turns to aircraft data to fill gaps in emissions monitoring of global green ...
Loading Comments...