Swiss flush­ing away mil­lions in gold, sil­ver every year

Oman Daily Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

ZURICH: While Lon­don’s sew­ers can get clogged with fat­bergs made up of grease and di­a­pers, it seems Switzer­land’s waste sys­tem is flecked with sil­ver and gold.

Re­searchers last year de­tected 3 tonnes of sil­ver and 43 kg of gold in ef­flu­ent and sludge from waste wa­ter treat­ment plants — amount­ing to around 3 mil­lion Swiss francs ($3.1 mil­lion). But be­fore peo­ple start hunt­ing in their drains for jew­ellery, the gov­ern­ment study said the tiny par­ti­cles were likely to be mostly from the watch­mak­ing, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and chem­i­cal in­dus­tries, which use the me­tals in their prod­ucts and pro­cesses.

“You hear sto­ries about an an­gry man or woman throw­ing jew­ellery down the toi­let, but we didn’t find any rings, un­for­tu­nately,” re­port au­thor Bas Vriens said on Thurs­day.

“The lev­els of gold or sil­ver were very small, in the mi­cro­grams, or even nanograms, but when you add them up it’s pretty sub­stan­tial.”

Re­searchers are now study­ing if it is worth­while to ex­tract the me­tals that end up in sewage sludge be­fore usu­ally be­ing burnt, but so far it has not found to be cost ef­fec­tive.

Higher lev­els of gold were found in the west­ern Swiss re­gion of Jura, be­lieved to be linked to watch­mak­ers that use the pre­cious metal to dec­o­rate their ex­pen­sive time­pieces.

There was also a higher con­cen­tra­tion in the south­ern can­ton of Ti­cino due to the gold re­finer­ies in the area.

This was the only re­gion where it might make sense to re­cover the me­tals, Vriens said.

Other trace el­e­ments in­clud­ing rare me­tals such as gadolin­ium — used in med­i­cal imag­ing — were also found by the sci­en­tists from the gov­ern­ment’s in­sti­tute of aquatic sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy (EAWAG). Their dis­cov­ery is the lat­est ex­am­ple of wealthy Switzer­land find­ing riches in un­usual places.

Last month an in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched after toi­lets at a Geneva bank and three restau­rants were blocked by about $100,000 in high-de­nom­i­na­tion ban­knotes — a bit dif­fer­ent from the huge fat mass that blocked an east Lon­don sewer.

The Swiss metal con­cen­tra­tions com­plied with reg­u­la­tions and were removed be­fore hu­mans drank the wa­ter again, the study said.

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