Arsenic From Chilean Mines Contaminates Antarctica

First Posted: Dec 09, 2015 01:31 PM EST

Researchers have found traces of arsenic in Antarctica that had originated from copper mines in northern Chile, according to a news releaseA team of scientists from Brazil's Polar and Climate Center made the discovery as they were traveling almost over 6,500 kilometers (4,000 miles) south to Antarctica.

The trace levels of arsenic that were detected are not sufficient enough to impact the Antarctic ecosystem, but "part of the contaminant is also being deposited along the way," Franciele Schwanck, lead author of the study and geologist told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera. 

Schwanck claimed that the arsenic finding was less alarming for Antarctica than it is for various parts of Chile.  

Arsenic is a poisonous substance and it is commonly used in smelting copper, which is released into the atmosphere during the process. Arsenic concentrations may be higher in some areas, due to human-related mining activities and in natural conditions, since it is a natural component in the earth's crust.  

Arsenic exposures can lead to the development of varying types of cancers and chronic diseases. According to Schwanck, the low concentrations levels in Antarctica indicate that there are higher concentrations in Chile. The population is exposed to arsenic through water and air pollution.

Chile is one of the world's largest copper producing countries, where it accounts for about one-third of global supply.

In the past, researchers found traces of lead and uranium pollution in Antarctica.

The findings of this study were published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

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