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Mount Everest shows signs of pollution


(Reuters)

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Monday, December 6, 2010; 4:45 PM

Following in Edmund Hillary's footsteps? Don't drink the water on your way up. Dangerous levels of arsenic and cadmium have been found in snow samples from Mount Everest.

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Both heavy metals were found at levels higher than those the Environmental Protection Agency considers acceptable, says Samantha Langley-Turnbaugh, a professor of environmental science at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.

Langley-Turnbaugh's student Bill Yeo climbed most of the way up Everest in 2006, taking soil and snow samples about every 1,000 feet up. All the snow samples had high levels of arsenic and cadmium, and all the soil samples had high levels of arsenic.

Mountaineers rely on melted snow for drinking water, so the toxic metals "could be a concern," says Langley-Turnbaugh. It is not clear how much of the pollution makes its way into rivers farther down the mountain, where it might enter the local drinking water.

High winds blow the contaminated soil around as dust, so breathing it in could also pose a risk. "People at Everest base camp often wear ventilators, simply because there is so much dust," Langley-Turnbaugh says.

Air pollution from Asian industry is probably to blame. Concentrations of both arsenic and cadmium were higher in the soil farther up the mountain, as would be expected if high-altitude winds were depositing them.

Langley-Turnbaugh says there is very little information available about pollution on high mountains such as Everest - because to get samples you have to climb them.

- Michael Marshall

This article comes from www.newscientist.com.


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