Scientists find $1.8 million worth of gold in Swiss wastewater

The scientists also found $1.7 million worth of silver (or 3,000 kilograms) flowing through wastewater every year, most of which comes from chemical and medical plants.

The lost gold is worth almost $2 million at current prices.

Concentrations of the gold were heavier in certain areas of Switzerland, with one section near refineries boasting elevated levels of the metal.

The scientists noted that the concentrations found in the wastewater don't pose risks to the environment, and wide-scale recovery wouldn't be worthwhile. "For example, the total aluminum and copper fluxes are equivalent, respectively, to only 0.2 and just under four per cent of annual Swiss imports".

Scientists had originally feared a repeat of the critical concentrations of rare earth metals lanthanum and samarium now found in the Rhine.

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The report says the study focused primarily on the fluxes and mass balances, rather than recovery value.

The next gold rush could be brewing beneath the streets of Switzerland if a new study from the country's water research body is to be believed.

Overall, however, considering the amounts that could be extracted, the recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is not said to be worthwhile in a country that refines around 70 percent of the world's gold on average every year. A group of researchers led by Eawag environmental chemists Bas Vriens and Michael Berg has now carried out the first systematic, quantitative assessment of elements discharged in effluents or disposed of in sewage sludge.

An estimated 95 pounds of gold is flushed through Swiss sewage systems each year, according to a study by the aquatic science institute Eawag.

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