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Polluted glaciers

Apr 12, 2017
Pesticides, herbicides, medicines – all these materials were found at over 2,700 metres above sea level. The water flowing down from the Presena glacier into the valley reflects this state of affairs.
Image caption:
People, machines, covers – all leave their traces in the snow and drinking water. ©

The contaminants found in the glacier are carried by the meltwater and pollute streams, rivers and groundwater. Such disturbing data are the result of a set of samples taken from the Presena glacier in the Adamello group by researchers from the MUSE science & natural history museum in Trento, Italy. The scientists are engaged in a research project concerning the pollution of watercourses.

The substances in question are contained in products used by tourists, such as cosmetics or creams, textile fibres from fleece jackets that now cover parts of the glacier, and particularly pesticides and herbicides from the intensive agricultural methods used. Once the pollutants enter the water cycle, they are distributed by meltwater and rain. The wind can then blow them considerable distances and back up to the glaciers.

While the quantity of pollutants at the moment does not affect the quality of drinking water, the question arises as to how long the water will remain sufficiently clean. The polluted streams are already a problem for aquatic organisms, as a current study in Switzerland shows. The accumulation and sum of the pollutants may in the long term affect the water quality and also adversely affect human health via the food chain.


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