Pollution Turns an Argentinian Lake Bright Pink

Pollution Turns an Argentinian Lake Bright Pink
Photo: Daniel Feldman/AFP, Getty Images

Corfo Lagoon, a body of water in the Patagonia region of Argentina, turned a deep and vibrant pink in what activists say is a disturbing sign of pollution in the area.

There are some instances of naturally occurring, brightly coloured lakes: Australia is home to a number of bubblegum-pink lakes, which contain algae that feed off saltwater and turn the lakes their distinctive hue. But while Corfo Lagoon may look cool right now, the reason for its colourful appearance is anything but natural. Experts and activists say the bright pink colour is due to an excess of sodium sulfite, a preservative that’s used on shrimp.

“The coloration is due to a preservative called sodium sulfite,” environmental engineer and virologist Federico Restrepo told AFP. “It is an antibacterial that also contaminates the waters of the Chubut River and waters of the cities of the region. The law orders the treatment of such liquids before being dumped.”

The Corfo Lagoon sits on the Chubut River, which has long been a major hub for the fishing industry. The industry provides thousands of jobs in the region.

“Fish processing generates work … it’s true,” environmental activist Pablo Lada told AFP. “But these are multi-million-dollar profit companies that don’t want to pay freight to take the waste to a treatment plant that already exists in Puerto Madryn, 56 km away, or build a plant closer.”

Usually, treatment companies truck their waste through the city of Rawson, the capital of Chubut province that sits on the river and near the lagoon, to treatment facilities on the city’s fringes. In recent weeks, residents, fed up with the heavy traffic filled with dangerous chemicals, blocked roads through Rawson in protest.

“We get dozens of trucks daily, the residents are getting tired of it,” said Lada.

Officials in Chubut then gave authorization for companies to dump their waste in the nearby lagoon, after which it started turning pink. The government is claiming that the impact is temporary; an official for the province told the AFP that the colour wouldn’t cause damage and should disappear in a couple of days. But sodium sulfite is supposed to be treated before it’s disposed of as waste; the colour of the lagoon, experts told the AFP, shows that the substance is not being properly handled. Lada said the lagoon started to turn pink over the weekend.

“Those who should be in control are the ones who authorise the poisoning of people,” Lada said.

Pollution spills, intentional or otherwise, have had deleterious impacts on bodies of water around the world in recent months. Mine tailings and plastic pollution clogged a Bolivian lake. Even the oceans aren’t safe: Red tide along Florida’s Gulf Coast has wiped out at least 791 tons of fish over the past month. While the cause of the algae bloom hasn’t been fully teased out yet, researchers are looking closely at untreated wastewater discharged from an old fertiliser plant in April.