Soil, in a new research at the University of Southern Maine, has been studied as a source of pollutants.
Nearly one-fifth of the earth's surface is comprised of mountains that play a role in the storage and distribution of fresh water, with one-tenth of the world's population relying on that mountain snowpack as their sole source of fresh water.
So understanding the amount of pollutants in soil and snow is critical to maintaining the quality of alpine water sources.
Researchers collected soil samples from Mount Everest's Rongbuk glacier and snow samples were taken from the northeast ridge of the mountain.
The samples were then analyzed for trace element concentrations, including cadmium, nickel, zinc, chromium, cobalt, arsenic, copper, manganese, mercury, vanadium, and magnesium.
The results of the study showed that amounts arsenic and cadmium in the snow samples, however, exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water standards, and the amount of arsenic in the soil samples was above the EPA's screening guidelines.
Arsenic is associated with bladder, skin, and kidney cancer, while cadmium is linked to lung and prostate cancer through the ingestion of contaminated food and water. Both are the by-products of fossil fuel combustion.
According to Bill Yeo, the levels are a result of the surrounding region's rapid increase in industrialization and Asia is the leading contributor of atmospheric pollutants.
Other studies on neighbouring mountains have revealed similar findings indicating the potential for multiple water sources to become contaminated.
Other research has been performed at comparable sites in Europe, Japan, Alaska, and New Zealand. Studies in Antarctica found concentrations three to four times lower than in Yeo's analysis, illustrating that the amount of arsenic and cadmium on Everest came from human contributions.
The article is published in the Fall 2010 issue of Soil Survey Horizons.