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Scientists find gold worth $2 million in Swiss sewage

11 October 2017

Scientists reported that about millions of dollars worth of gold and silver float through Switzerland's sewer systems every year.

The concentrations of elements pose no risk to the environment as most cases lay below harmful limits. Scientists have long known that small amounts of the valuable metals can wind up mixed in with sewage.

The Swiss waste water processes an estimated 6,500 pounds of silver each year - which translates to about $1.8 million, CNN Money points out.

In addition to the precious metals, the researchers also looked at concentrations of various elements that are useful in electronics and luminous paints.

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But the concentrations of metals varied across the country.

Some areas had higher concentrations of gold than others.

The researchers believe the tiny flecks of gold flow into the waste water system from the country's famed watchmaking industry and gold refineries.

The discovery was made after researchers studied 64 water treatment plants in Switzerland.

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"The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted", the study said. For example, the total aluminium and copper fluxes are equivalent, respectively, to only 0.2 and just under 4 per cent of annual Swiss imports.

Switzerland has so much gold that the country is flushing it down the drain.

The study focused primarily not on recovery value, but on fluxes and mass balances: this is the first time trace elements in wastewater have been systematically surveyed for an industrialized country.

Bloomberg notes that Switzerland is a "major gold-refining hub", with about 70 percent of the world's gold, on average, passing through Swiss refineries each year.

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