The world’s first polluted river, contaminated approximately 7,000 years ago was discovered by an international team of researchers, led by Professor Russell Adams, from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Waterloo.
Apparently, industrial pollution is not a modern phenomenon and its traces have been found in now-dry riverbed in the Wadi Faynan region of southern Jordan, where the combustion of copper was included in the early stages of developing metallurgy.
During the Chalcolithic or Copper Age –a transitional period between the late Neolithic or Stone Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age, people created copper at this time by combining charcoal and the blue-green copper ore found in abundance in this area in pottery crucibles or vessels and heating the mixture over a fire.
The process was time-consuming and labor-intensive but eventually, copper production expanded and communities grew larger, building furnaces, mines and factories by about 2600 BC.
People paid a heavy price for the increased metal production. Slag, the waste product of smelting, remained. It contained metals such as copper, lead, zinc, cadmium, and even arsenic, mercury and thalium. Plants absorbed these metals, people and animals such as goats and sheep ate them, and so the contaminants bioaccumulated in the environment.
Adams believes the pollution from thousands of years of copper mining and production must have led to widespread health problems in ancient populations, such as malformations, infertility and premature death.
Researchers have found evidence of high levels of copper and lead in human bones dating back to the Roman period.