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Mountain streams run to the alpine lake Roumassot in the Bearn Pyrenees.
The Plate

Tracing How Yesterday’s Pollution Can End Up in Today’s Dinner

This content is brought to you by the AXA Research Fund.

Dr. Sophia Hansson, AXA Post-Doctoral Fellow, explores how pollution from the past can have startling effects on our food, water, and health today.

“When I look at the beautiful region of the Pyrenees where I do my research, it’s hard to believe that an invisible danger is lurking, unnoticed by those who live here. I’m bringing it to light. Can man-made pollution from centuries of mining in these mountains still threaten the health of people today?

Why focus on something that happened 500 years ago? Because lead and mercury deposited long ago remain just as lethal now as they were then. My measurements reveal high levels of poisonous metals in the soil, fish, and water. How is this ancient leftover pollution moving from mountaintops into human water and food supplies? How many other places around the world are affected by legacy pollutants? What about your own dinner plate? My risk assessment is a first step in detection, and protection. We didn’t cause the problem, but it’s our problem to fix.”

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