A recent study by UC Riverside scientists regarding the dry, exposed Salton Sea lakebed known as playa found that its dust emissions can be linked to cardiovascular disease and death, as well as respiratory illnesses.

The study, which involved collecting playa soils between August 2015 and February 2016, found that sodium particles in playa soils affect the local ecosystem by changing the “natural balance for soils and agricultural lands,” while selenium found in playa “can be a driver in aquatic and avian toxicity,” said Roya Bahreini, an associate professor of environmental sciences who led the project.

The Salton Sea is a shallow, salty lake east of Palm Springs and along the Imperial and Coachella valleys. It’s directly on the San Andreas Fault. During non-drought times it may appear to be filled with water, but much of the dry lakebed reappears when water is no longer plentiful.

Failed resorts line the shore in a number of spots, although some homes appear to be kept in decent shape. Nevertheless, there is often a “dead-fish” smell from the lake that can by annoying.

Bahreini’s team found that selenium was far more present in playa soils than in desert soil located farther off from the Salton Sea, showing that the receding shoreline is certain to create both an ecological and human health crisis.

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

Samantha C. Ying, a coauthor of the study and assistant professor of environmental sciences, said that though the amount of current exposed playa is small, “the contributions are significant.”

The researchers also indicated that a current project diverting water from the Colorado River and into the Salton Sea is slated to end before the end of next year, which is likely to contribute to the already receding shoreline and more exposed playa.

“With more playa being exposed, we expect total PM 10 (particulate matter with diameters up to 10 microns) 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.”

–City News Service

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