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Saudi Thirst for Water Is Creating a Toxic Brine Problem

  • UN says effluent from desalination is dangerous for food chain
  • World’s 16,000 plants make 893 million barrels of waste a day
desalination
Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Saudi Arabia isn’t just the world’s top crude oil exporter. It’s also the biggest producer of a toxic effluent that’s the byproduct of slaking the desert kingdom’s thirst for water.

United Nations scientists warned Tuesday that desalination in Saudi Arabia and other countries is creating huge volumes of chemical-laced brine that risks contaminating food chains if left untreated. The problem is most acute in the Middle East and North Africa, which account for two-thirds of the world’s water contaminated by energy-intensive desalination plants.