SALT LAKE CITY — Scientists have revealed a startling discovery made at a lake bed of the Great Salt Lake that could potentially impact the health of many Utahns.
Samples of neurotoxins gathered from a dried up lake bed were so large they shocked scientists who have been studying them for years.
“The air sample had a very large signal, one of the biggest I have seen and I was very worried,” said Dr. Sandra Banack, senior scientist at Brain Chemistry Labs.
Banack said the toxins in a nonhuman primate can trigger the neuropathology of Alzheimer’s disease and ALS. She and her colleagues are concerned about what an exposed lake bed means when wind picks up the toxins and people breathe them in.
“What we don’t want to see is the increased risk of ALS among citizens here in the Wasatch Front,” explained Dr. Paul Alan Cox, Executive Director of Brain Chemistry Labs.
While the study shows an increase is possible, it’s hard to prove.
“We’re talking, you know, a disease that can take 10-20 years to manifest. It’s not like you can just go out and say, ‘yes, that is the cause,’” said Dr. James Metcalf, a senior research fellow at Brain Chemistry Labs.
The study simply tells scientists they need to do more research.
“And that may then give us links as to which people are vulnerable to the action of this toxin,” said Metcalf, “whether it’s contributing to an increased rate of disease and ultimately protect people.”
In the meantime, it’s the unknown risks while Wasatch Front residents keep inhaling the air that worries scientists.
“As scientists, we feel very strongly that all efforts should be made to refuel the Great Salt Lake so that these water levels come up and we’re not getting the dust blowing this way off the lake bottom that’s dried,” said Cox.
What can we do to protect ourselves from the already proven risks and the possibility of more found in this study?
“Research on its own can’t make change,” explained Eliza Cowie, Policy Director at O2 Utah.
Cowie encourages people to pay attention, read up on the issues, and show up when it comes time for decisions to be made at the Utah State Capitol that impact the lake and the state’s air quality.
“It’s really important to get people involved to take that information and produce it as a policy solution,” she said. “You can’t rely purely on researchers and scientists to save us. We need to kind of take the information and produce our own results.”