GREAT SALT LAKE COLLABORATIVE

Researchers are worried about metals in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem

Jul 14, 2022, 6:53 PM | Updated: Jul 26, 2022, 3:26 pm

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake — and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late.

SALT LAKE CITY — While the Great Salt Lake is facing drought and drying up, it’s also fighting off toxic metals entering its waters.

Materials like mercury and lead are entering the Lake’s ecosystem and traveling up through the food chain from the plants to the insects and then the birds.

It’s a problematic chain of events that Dr. Edd Hammill, an associate professor from Watershed Science, is looking into.

“All of these metals are unfortunately very toxic,” Hammill said. “I mean, they include fun things like lead, mercury, selenium, so as a result, they’re not great.”

Dr. Edd Hammil, associate professor with Watershed Science

That’s because those metals tend to bind much more effectively to biological tissues than soils.

So the plants are literally drinking in those pollutants up from within the wetlands, which causes the wildlife to consume the pollutants from them.

“They call the process bio-accumulation and bio-magnification, so because these metals bind to biological tissues, it means that when a predator eats its prey, it ingests all the metals that prey has ever encountered in its life,” Hammill explains.

And that’s a problem. While the food chain here may not make it directly back to us, the toxins stay in the ecosystem both here and beyond, as those metals make it into migratory birds.

“So that means they’re collecting these insects. In some cases, they’re feeding them to their offspring,” Hammill said. “So these brand-new chicks are getting potentially quite big doses of metals straight away, the moment they hatch.”

Chopper 5 viewing the wetlands of the Great Salt Lake.

That’s why a big focus now is getting those materials out of the ecosystem.

Hammill said they’re looking into less-leafy plants that fewer insects eat and that could be put here to soak in those harmful metals as a type of bio-remediation.

“They harvest the plant tissue from the ground, take it somewhere else, bury it deep down in the ground, and that effectively removes it out of the ecosystem,” he continues.

However, it doesn’t fix the main problem of stopping these metals from entering the Great Salt Lake.

“We know full well there’s a lot of industrial processes on the Great Salt Lake. We’ve known for a long time that there are many pathways that these metals can come in, and so it wasn’t unexpected,” Hammill said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Great Salt Lake Collaborative

rainbow above shallow water and brown plants with mountains and clouds behind...

Ben Winslow, Fox13

Great Salt Lake has likely hit its high mark for the year and will start dropping

The Great Salt Lake has likely peaked, reaching its highest water levels of the year and will start dropping again.

16 days ago

A webcam shows a time-lapse of a dust storm passing through the Salt Lake Valley Wednesday, May 17,...

Megan Banta, The Salt Lake Tribune

Great Salt Lake’s drying lakebed isn’t ‘toxic’ or the biggest source of dust, experts say

Experts say The Great Salt Lake isn't the leading cause of dust in Utah. Desert playas where other lakes have already dried up — including the Great Salt Lake Desert to the west of the lake itself — along with gravel operations, construction and drought also cause dust storms.

19 days ago

An undated photo of the cross that Christopher "Kit" Carson left on a rock on Fremont Island in 184...

Carter Williams, KSL.com

Why this explorer’s carving on a Great Salt Lake island rock is now on a historic register

A cross that an explorer etched in stone during a tour of the island nearly 181 years ago is now one of the newest additions to the National Register of Historic Places.

20 days ago

water mirroring sky from boat on Great Salt Lake...

Megan Banta, The Salt Lake Tribune

Here’s how much water is flowing to the Great Salt Lake as the snow melts

About 37% more water is flowing into the Great Salt Lake from its tributaries than in a typical year, according to federal data.

1 month ago

Overhead image of the area around the Bear River Massacre Site that includes the Bear River that fl...

Andrew Christiansen, University of Utah student

‘Cultural healing’: Q&A as restoration at Bear River Massacre Site begins

The restoration of Wuda Ogwa, the site near Preston, Idaho, along the banks of the Bear River, where the Bear River Massacre happened, is underway by the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.

1 month ago

A portion of western Weber County has been selected as an area for a possible inland port. Nearby h...

Mike Anderson and Mary Culbertson, KSL TV

Massive inland port project targets western Weber County, concerning residents, environmental groups

A portion of western Weber County has been selected as an area for a possible inland port. Nearby homeowners and environmentalist groups are not pleased.

1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

Photo courtesy of Artists of Ballet West...

Ballet West

The rising demand for ballet tickets: why they’re harder to get

Ballet West’s box office is experiencing demand they’ve never seen before, leaving many interested patrons unable to secure tickets they want.

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 internet safety tips for kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why printer security should be top of mind for your business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light up your home with these top lighting trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for hassle-free computer repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Researchers are worried about metals in the Great Salt Lake ecosystem