As California’s toxic Salton Sea shrinks, health alerts rise for surrounding communities

Salton City, California — Damien Lopez, 4, has a condition that many people living near the Salton Sea in Southern California have.

“His cough gets really wheezy and I’m trying to control him,” said his mother, Michelle Lopez.

“Control” often means visiting Pediatric Nurse Cristina Galindo at Pioneers Memorial Hospital.

“I can see up to 25 to 30 patients a day, and probably half of them have respiratory problems,” Galindo told CBS News.

A 2019 University of Southern California study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that 20% to 22% of children in the region exhibit asthma-like symptoms, which is higher than the national asthma rate. It was found to be more than three times as large. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. David Roe, a biomedical professor at the University of California, Riverside, led a university study last year that determined that the Salton Sea itself is responsible for the high incidence of asthma in people living near it. It has been discovered that pollutants in the ocean may be causing lung inflammation in nearby residents.

The Salton Sea was formed in the early 1900s after a dam burst and Colorado River water flooded the Imperial Valley. Currently, the main source is runoff from nearby farms, which contains fertilizers, heavy metals, and toxins such as arsenic and selenium, Lowe explained to CBS News.

salton sea
The receding shoreline of the Salton Sea in Southern California’s Coachella Valley on April 4, 2023. The Salton Sea is a shallow, inland, highly saline body of water located in Riverside and Imperial Counties.

Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

For decades, this dangerous mixture lay dormant on the ocean floor. But unless the Colorado River is replenished, the Salton Sea will rapidly recede, leaving the dry, toxic lakebed exposed to the wind.

That’s attractive too new industry They are considering mining another chemical, lithium, which lies beneath the lake bed.

“If California wants to electrify all of its vehicles by 2035, it’s going to need all the lithium it can get,” said California Audubon’s Salton Sea program director and director of the Lithium Valley Commission. says Frank Lewis, who is also California government agency that oversees lithium mining in the region.

“We don’t fully understand the impact of the lithium industry,” Lewis said. “There is no industry that is 100% free from environmental impact.”

Lewis says lithium could be liquid gold for a region that faces some of the highest poverty rates in the state. For now, it’s unclear whether lithium is a lifeline or a threat.

“This is toxic toxic dust,” Lewis said, adding that he hopes communities around the Salton Sea don’t pay medical bills for what could be an economic benefit.

“Taxes and revenue could provide the funding to keep this toxic playa covered,” Ruiz said.

Lopez hopes her family will not be left alone.

“Some people worry that one day someone will say, ‘You can’t live here anymore, get out of here,'” Lopez said.

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