Does Viral Photo Show a ‘Toxic’ Lithium Extraction Field?

Lithium leach fields, such because the one proven in a viral {photograph} circulating in 2022, pose hazards to the atmosphere and human well being.

Fact Check

{A photograph} shared to Twitter on Aug. 6, 2022, authentically confirmed a lithium leach subject used within the mining and extraction of the silvery-white metallic, which is a core element of batteries utilized in each cell telephones and electrical autos.

“This is what your Electric Car batteries are made of. It is so neuro-toxic that a bird landing on this stuff dies in minutes. Take a guess what it does to your nervous system? Pat yourself on the back for saving the environment,” wrote Keith Dickie on Twitter. As of this writing, the {photograph} had been retweeted greater than 22,400 occasions, and reposted by different profiles on Twitter and different digital platforms.

This is a Lithium leach subject. This is what your Electric Car batteries are manufactured from. It is so neuro-toxic that a chicken touchdown on these items dies in minutes. Take a guess what it does to your nervous system?
Pat your self on the again for saving the atmosphere. pic.twitter.com/HRVClWXSU3

— keith dickie (@rkdickie) August 6, 2022

The image itself is genuine, however we’ve got solely been in a position to partially confirm the opposite claims made within the tweet. A reverse picture search led us to the web site of German photographer Tom Hegen, who featured the {photograph} as a part of “The Lithium Series 1.” It seems to have been taken in Chile in 2021 close to the Salar de Atacama salt flats, the place a lithium extraction subject is located, south of the city San Pedro de Atacama. In an e mail to Snopes, Hegen confirmed that he had taken the {photograph}, however that he had not given permission to Dickie to republish it on Twitter and couldn’t verify the validity of the opposite feedback made within the tweet.

Hegen’s pictures have been featured by Euronews.com in February 2022, which described his work as offering “an overview of places where we extract, refine and consume resources with his latest series exposing the ‘Lithium Triangle.’”

“This region rich with natural deposits can be found where the borders of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia meet. And roughly a quarter is stored in the Salar de Atacama salt flats in northern Chile,” wrote the publication in its eco information part. More than half of lithium extracted is used within the manufacturing of automobile batteries, in keeping with the Minerals Education Coalition.

Not solely do such pictures present the extent of environmental destruction associated to lithium extraction, however additionally they spotlight different potential detrimental impacts from lithium leach fields. This is especially true on condition that industrial demand for lithium has considerably elevated within the final 20 years, largely to help the rising demand of electrical autos.

Environment and Health Hazards

The Lithium Triangle of the Chilean Andes area comprises greater than half of the world’s provide of lithium, and in March 2022, a research revealed within the peer-reviewed journal The Royal Society Publishing highlighted the doubtless unfavorable impacts of lithium extraction, and offered proof to recommend that “efforts to slow the expansion of mining and the impacts of climate change are, therefore, urgently needed to benefit local biodiversity and the local human economy that depends on it.”

This is due largely to the arid atmosphere of the world. Though it’s wealthy in lithium, it is without doubt one of the driest locations on Earth, and to extract lithium, miners want a lot of water, reported Wired in 2018.

“To extract lithium, miners start by drilling a hole in the salt flats and pumping salty, mineral-rich brine to the surface,” wrote the publication.

“Then they leave it to evaporate for months at a time, first creating a mixture of manganese, potassium, borax and lithium salts which is then filtered and placed into another evaporation pool, and so on. After between 12 and 18 months, the mixture has been filtered enough that lithium carbonate — white gold — can be extracted.”

An estimated 500,000 gallons of water is used for each metric ton of lithium, which totals round 65% of the water provide. This can have an effect on native farmers, and likewise has the potential for poisonous chemical compounds from the evaporation swimming pools to leach into native water provides.

That stated, it’s troublesome to quantify whether or not the potential environmental impacts attributable to lithium mining practices outweigh the long-term advantages of electrical autos, which have been proven to chop down on fossil gas manufacturing and greenhouse gasoline emissions.

Just how poisonous the photographed lithium leach subject ponds are is a troublesome query to reply, so we’ve got contacted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in hopes of clarifying.

We do know that lithium can be utilized as a remedy, however at sure publicity ranges it may possibly have unfavorable well being impacts, together with nostril and throat irritation when inhaled; a buildup of fluid within the lungs; and headache, muscle weak spot, confusion, seizures, and coma. It might also have an effect on the thyroid gland, kidneys, and coronary heart perform, in keeping with the New Jersey Department of Health. In the U.S., waste may be examined for toxicity by the EPA. But as Boston University famous, lithium mining is “particularly difficult to oversee environmentally.” A 2008 evaluation of lithium toxicity discovered that not less than in some instances, “lithium is not expected to bioaccumulate and its human and environmental toxicity are low.” But with out seeing toxicity experiences of the lithium leach subject featured within the {photograph}, we can not definitively say simply how poisonous it could be, what chemical compounds could also be current, or whether or not the ponds may particularly include a “neurotoxin,” because the social media put up claimed.

Simply put: It’s very probably that they’re poisonous to a point and doubtlessly dangerous to people or birds, however we simply don’t know to what extent. A 2021 research revealed within the journal The Extractive Industries and Society equally concluded that there’s a “scarcity of information” accessible, however that it’s “possible to envisage” potential ecological toxicity and well being hazards:

However, the impacts of lithium mining have been hardly ever addressed within the literature. Agustinada et al. (2018) adopted a bibliometric evaluation associated to lithium mining and impacts, remarking that research are scarce, particularly from international locations producing lithium, representing about 2% of whole publications … [and] the shortage of investigation is principally as a result of websites are in distant areas and knowledge is just not accessible.

Whether it’s for copper or lithium, leach pits are certainly a problem for migratory birds, which have been identified to mistakenly land on the massive our bodies of chemical runoff, mistaking them for lakes or rivers. In Butte, Montana, the Berkeley Pit is a former pit copper mine that at present measures one mile lengthy by a half-mile large. Though the pit went out of fee in 1982, its tailing pond nonetheless poses a danger for migratory snow geese. In 2016, tens of 1000’s of birds landed within the pit and have been seen dropping useless from the sky, reported BBC on the time. Today, cannons, sirens, and drones are employed to discourage birds from mistakenly touchdown on the poisonous lake, reported Montana Public Radio.

But such deterrents are a luxurious not accessible to tailing ponds in some areas of the world, notably in international locations that do not need intensive environmental protections in place. Some argue that along with extracting treasured minerals for battery manufacturing, there must also be a renewed concentrate on recycling applications, concluded a report by the environmental group Earthworks.

Sources

“Are Electric Vehicles and Batteries Bad for the Environment?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/electric-vehicle-batteries/. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

“As Demand for New Technology Increases, Mining Threatens Pristine Places.” Audubon, 20 Dec. 2019, https://www.audubon.org/magazine/winter-2019/as-demand-new-technology-increases-mining.

Campbell, Maeve. “South America’s ‘lithium Fields’ Reveal the Dark Side of Electric Cars.” Euronews, 1 Feb. 2022, https://www.euronews.com/green/2022/02/01/south-america-s-lithium-fields-reveal-the-dark-side-of-our-electric-future.

Choi, Hye-Bin, et al. “The Impact of Anthropogenic Inputs on Lithium Content in River and Tap Water.” Nature Communications, vol. 10, no. 1, Dec. 2019, p. 5371. www.nature.com, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-13376-y.

Gutiérrez, Jorge S., et al. “Climate Change and Lithium Mining Influence Flamingo Abundance in the Lithium Triangle.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 289, no. 1970, Mar. 2022, p. 20212388. royalsocietypublishing.org (Atypon), https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.2388.

“Climate Change and Lithium Mining Influence Flamingo Abundance in the Lithium Triangle.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 289, no. 1970, Mar. 2022, p. 20212388. royalsocietypublishing.org (Atypon), https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.2388.

“Https://Twitter.Com/Delboy00789/Status/1556181046110015488.” Twitter, https://twitter.com/delboy00789/status/1556181046110015488. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

“Lithium.” Minerals Education Coalition, https://mineralseducationcoalition.org/minerals-database/lithium/. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

Lykiardopoulou, Ioanna. “Mining Lithium for EV Batteries Is Decimating Flamingos.” TNW | Shift, 11 Mar. 2022, https://thenextweb.com/news/lithium-mining-ev-batteries-is-decimating-flamingos.

Nast, Condé. “The Spiralling Environmental Cost of Our Lithium Battery Addiction.” Wired UK. www.wired.co.uk, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/lithium-batteries-environment-impact. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

“Snopes Tips: Why Care If Research Is ‘Peer-Reviewed’?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/news/2022/03/30/snopes-tips-why-care-if-research-is-peer-reviewed/. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

The Lithium Series I. https://www.tomhegen.com/collections/the-lithium-series-i. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

“‘Thousands’ of Geese Die in Toxic Montana Pit Mine.” BBC News, 7 Dec. 2016. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38239879.

TinEye Reverse Image Search. https://tineye.com/search/bd2d385ad800e5834fb52f5dbb3aa4ff430a9137?sort=score&order=desc&page=2. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

“Updates Are Underway To Berkeley Pit Bird Hazing Plan.” Montana Public Radio, 5 Aug. 2021, https://www.mtpr.org/montana-news/2021-08-05/updates-are-underway-to-berkeley-pit-bird-hazing-plan.

wolfgarou. “Is Is a Lithium Leach Field. This Is What Your Electric Car Batteries Are Made of. It Is so Neuro-Toxic That a Bird Landing on This Stuff Dies in Minutes. Take a Guess What It Does to Your Nervous System? Pat Yourself on the Back for Saving the Environment.” America’s Best Pics and Videos, https://americasbestpics.com/picture/is-is-a-lithium-leach-field-this-is-what-your-t6zuuejm9. Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

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