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An Assessment Of The Environmental Toxicity Of Silver Iodide-With Reference To A Cloud Seeding Trial In The Snowy Mountains Of Australia

Bruce D. Williams, John A. Denhom

Abstract


The objectives of the Snowy Precipitation Enhancement Research Project are to determine the technical, economic and environmental feasibility of augmenting snowfalls in the Snowy Mountains region of New South Wales. The project commenced during 2004, following proclamation of special enabling legislation, the Snowy Mountains Cloud Seeding Trial Act 2004 (NSW). Amongst other things, the legislation prescribed a target area of approximately 1000 square kilometres (mostly within the Kosciuszko National Park), and scheduled completion date of 2009. The legislation also mandated the use of silver iodide as the seeding agent. The Snowy Mountains Cloud Seeding Trial Act 2004 (NSW) was amended in May 2008, expanding the size of the target area to around 2150 square kilometres, and authorising the continuation of cloud seeding activities until April 2015. An extensive review of the literature was undertaken prior to commencement of the project to determine if the use of the silver iodide (AgI) seeding agent would have an adverse impact on the environment. Although silver ions from watersoluble silver salts have been shown to be toxic to aquatic species, this is not the case for the insoluble silver iodide. Many studies have shown that the toxicity of silver ion in water is significantly ameliorated by the presence in water of chloride ion, carbonate ion, sulfide ion and dissolved organic carbon. In addition, silver has been shown to strongly adsorb onto particulate matter in water. Recent research has shown that silver ion concentrations in natural waters are negligibly small, and an investigation in the study area has confirmed many of these ameliorating factors to be present. Consequently the bioavailability of silver is unlikely to change from the current background levels. Extensive investigations undertaken prior to the commencement of the project confirmed background levels of silver, and the presence of many ameliorating factors known to limit toxicity of silver the ion. An analysis of ecotoxicity monitoring data collected over the first four years of the SPERP has shown that the monitoring program has sufficient power to detect any adverse trend in silver concentration well before a level of environmental concern is reached. The SPERP monitoring results to date have all shown mean concentrations of total silver to be well below any level of concern, and we consider the risk of an adverse ecotoxicological impact resulting from the use of silver iodide for this project to be negligibly small.

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