Salton Sea Aerosols and Lung Inflammation
In October, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) held a seminar on the health issues experienced by communities surrounding the Salton Sea in southern California. Formed in 1905 when the Colorado River broke through an irrigation canal, the Salton Sea was sustained for decades by inflows of irrigation runoff from local farms, but the lakebed is declining due to drought and climate change. Currently 340 square miles, the evaporating Salton Sea, whose exposed lakebed contains remnants of fertilizers, pesticides, and metals, is becoming increasingly polluted. Winds spread contaminants through nearby communities, potentially leading to increased incidence of respiratory diseases. David Lo, a professor at the University of California, Riverside who presented the NIEHS seminar, recently published results of a study in which mice exposed to Salton Sea aerosols developed lung inflammation distinct from the response generated by Alternaria alternata, a household allergen. Information from the study and other sources appears below. The Salton Sea has been in the news recently for other reasons: the area is thought to contain enough lithium to supply a third of the current demand for the element, which is a component of rechargeable batteries used in mobile phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. Three companies are considering opening lithium extraction plants in the area.
Professor David Lo, quoted in “Salton Sea Aerosol Exposure Triggers Unique and Mysterious Pulmonary Response”: “What’s interesting is that the aerosolized Salton Sea triggered an inflammatory response in the lungs that is clearly distinct from the characteristic allergic inflammatory responses produced by Alternaria exposures. [. . .] What we may surmise from this is that while Salton Sea spray may not be sufficient to generate asthma alone, it could play an important role in the progression to asthma or other inflammatory diseases. More research is clearly needed.”
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dot.LA: “The Lithium Race Takes Shape in the Salton Sea” (November 2022).
In These Times: “Will Lithium Mining Turn California’s Salton Sea into a Green Energy Sacrifice Zone?” (November 2022).
Public Policy Institute of California: “Remaking the Salton Sea” (April 2017).
Public Policy Institute of California: “The Troubled History—and Uncertain Future—of the Salton Sea” (November 2022).
Science of the Total Environment: “Salton Sea Aerosol Exposure in Mice Induces a Pulmonary Response Distinct from Allergic Inflammation” (October 2021).
University of California, Riverside: “Salton Sea Aerosol Exposure Triggers Unique and Mysterious Pulmonary Response” (June 2021).