Toxins Leaching From Old Bottles Submerged in Lake Tahoe?
Plastic. For most of us, this is the first word we think of when the topic of litter and ecological harm is mentioned. Restoring the Lake Depths Foundation, a Lake Tahoe based nonprofit, has made plastic litter in the lake their primary target for removal since beginning operations in 2020. Using ROVs capable of reaching much greater depths than scuba divers, and equipped with claw arms for retrieval, the foundation explores the depths of Lake Tahoe daily, searching for garbage.
Restoring the Lake Depths Foundation began their work with a focus on plastic, but they continue to find a lot of glass bottles and jars. This raised the question – are these bottles hurting the lake in any way? Most people recognize plastic as detrimental to the environment and ecological health. Glass, on the other hand, doesn’t sound as dirty. It comes from the Earth; it goes back to the Earth – right?
Unfortunately, glass may not be as clean as we have been led to believe. A study from the University of Plymouth, published in 2019, shows evidence that glass liquor bottles contain harmful amounts of cadmium and lead, with enamel coated bottles having the highest levels of these chemicals (up to 20,000 ppm and 80,000 ppm, respectively). In contrast, lead based paint is limited to 90 ppm (parts per million) (2). Exposure to these toxins can have harmful effects on the human body and the environment, resulting in “decreased growth and reproduction in plants and animals, and neurological effects in vertebrates” (1).
The UOP study “also showed the elements had the potential to leach from enameled glass… when subjected to a standard test that simulates rainfall” (2). Consider what this may mean for submerged bottles in beautiful Lake Tahoe!
Restoring The Lake Depths Foundation finds these statistics concerning enough to add glass bottles to their list of primary removal targets for waste recovery. The foundation brings their efforts – and their robots – to Lake Tahoe every Monday through Friday, and will continue to do so until the lake is restored to its former glory. Restoring Lake Depths Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization; donations to the foundation are tax-deductible. If you would like more information, to donate, or volunteer, please visit our website at www.restoremylake.org.
1. “Basic Information about Lead Air Pollution.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/lead-air-pollution/basic-information-about-lead-air-pollution.
2. Williams, Alan. “Toxic Substances Found In the Glass and Decoration of Alcoholic Beverage Bottles.” University of Plymouth, University of Plymouth, https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/news/toxic-substances-found-in-the-glass-and-decoration-of-alcoholic-beverage-bottles.