A young researcher who has tested samples of soil in various parts of the country and abroad to measure high levels of heavy metals plans to develop a method to monitor pollution from space. She has already found in her test samples and lab analyses significantly high levels of lead in various places in an around Jerusalem, Haifa and the Ramat Hovav dump in the Negev.
Dr. Lonia Friedlander, a post-doctoral fellow at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who received a scholarship from Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis during Israel Space Week recently, is working on a technique that would connect samples collected from polluted areas with satellite images of the same places.
Friedlander found that the level of lead in some locations in the Jerusalem area amounted to 7,000 parts per million, while the recommended amount in the ground is 400 parts per million – 18 times more than the recommended maximum limit.
Excessive exposure to heavy metals in soil, groundwater and particle emissions in the air cause health problems. Acute lead poisoning can lead to blindness, kidney failure and digestive problems. Small children can be especially vulnerable because they play on the ground and put their hands in their mouths. Chronic exposure causes developmental delays and behavioral problems.
“Heavy metals pollute the environment through industry, mining and chemicals, which for decades have been poorly controlled and continue to be unregulated in areas where waste treatment is not regulated,” explained Friedlander. “We believe that the source of heavy-metal pollution comes from people and industries that burn and dump waste in non-controlled areas, such as disposing of cables, industrial waste and even scrap from vehicles.”
The results of the study will lead to greater use of satellite imagery to identify contaminated areas without the need for fieldwork and processing and her technique is expected to provide a new tool for government regulators to limit soil contamination.
In the first stage, the local government would be warned to keep the public away from the contaminated soil, remove it and replace it with clean soil or use biological decontamination methods such as sowing species of plants or crops that can extract heavy metals from the soil.
Friedlander will be doing her research in the framework of the Ramon Fellowship in collaboration with colleagues at Ben-Gurion University’s laboratory of remote sensing and planetary imaging, headed by Prof. Dan Blumberg. She previously worked with Dr.Yaakov Garb and Prof. Noam Weisbrod at BGU’s Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research; the work she did with them will be expanded in her research in Blumberg’s lab.